“‘Disability Rights Iowa played an essential role in my journey back to work after I survived a car accident in 2011. My accident happened 2 years after I graduated both on and off Kinnick Stadium’s field as a tight end for the Hawkeyes, earned my BA, helped bring home a 2010 Orange Bowl Championship, and landed a Director position for a local municipal Parks and Recreation Department.
In a split second, I was physically reduced from 6’5”, 255 pounds (in the best shape of my life) to a power wheelchair with quadriplegia. I sustained a C4/C5 cervical spinal cord injury resulting in paralysis from the chest down. At first, I was ventilator dependent with no arm or hand function. I slowly regained limited movement in my arms, but nothing beyond the expected prognosis of my injury. Hand and wrist function are still 100% absent.
Despite these unfortunate circumstances, and a seemingly ‘life-ending’ scenario, I currently feel a greater sense of pride than any other time in my life. This was made possible by completing all coursework for the Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling masters program at the University of Iowa, and securing a full-time internship at an agency that provides support for individuals who have disabilities. A huge thanks goes to Disability Rights Iowa for showing me ‘the light at the end of the tunnel’ by patiently guiding me towards a Social Security PASS Plan that served as financial fuel for the motivation needed to take on post-secondary education.
My first interaction with DRI came at a seminar where they discussed the barriers and resources associated with returning to work with a disability. I was thoroughly impressed with DRI professionals in their presentation and knowledge of a system that seemed very daunting to navigate after my injury. They explained in very simple terms things such as Social Security incentive programs, how income affects Medicare/Medicaid, workplace accommodations, and disability rights. They even partnered with Easter Seals who demonstrated assistive technology solutions for the workplace. I knew right away DRI would be a key resource for molding together the necessary supports to establish a suitable job that could accommodate my disability.
My ideas slowly began to change with regards to my near-total loss of function, and the reality of becoming physically dependent in almost every facet of life. A sense of hope grew into more and more motivation as I learned about a Social Security incentive program known as the Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS Plan). The creation of my highly individualized PASS Plan was facilitated from start to finish with side-by-side support from my coordinator, Mistie Johnson. She was very professional, yet patient and ‘down to earth’ in her explanations of how PASS and Social Security work. Not only has my PASS provided significant support while in school, but will continue throughout my work experience. This program eased my concerns regarding a plethora of common financial stressors that many people think of when combining the words “disability” and ‘work/school.’ I realized I had taken for granted the internal and external gratifications that school/employment could bring someone who has a disability, just as effectively as someone who does not. By going back to school, choosing to give work a fighting chance, and establishing self-sufficiency my worries diminished and my confidence soared. I have realized through the unique experience of acquired disability, that ‘they’ (with the help of DRI, of course) have finally established a program that really works. It truly makes employment ‘worth it.'”