By Guest Blogger Colleen M. Feldman
This is the second post in a three part series by Colleen M. Feldman, who contracted polio in 1941, just prior to her 13th birthday. In this post, she addresses her experiences in life as a wife and mother with a disability raising three children, and eventually entering the workforce. Mrs. Feldman brings a unique perspective to Disability.Blog, having lived with a disability more than 50 years before the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law. She is also the mother of Disability.gov’s Content Manager, Robert Goldstraw.
At the age of 20, I married and subsequently, had three children. My generation of women didn’t seem to be motivated to enter the world of work, so I was reasonably content to be a housewife/homemaker. But when it came time for high school and college for my children, I began to think seriously about looking for a job.
At the age of 34, I went job hunting, and had my first of many experiences with employment discrimination. I would go to job interviews where it was openly talked about that the reason I wasn’t a “good fit” was because of my disability. I was bluntly rejected by two large companies. One personnel manager asked me, “Do you honestly think you could handle a job?” I clearly remember saying, “Do you honestly think I would waste my time being interviewed if I thought I couldn’t?” I was hurt and angry. I came home and furiously shampooed a rug on my hands and knees – that rug had never been so clean!
I was advised to go to the state vocational rehabilitation (VR) agency for an interview and testing. Through VR, I was eventually hired by the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration. I worked in state government for 23 years and retired with a pension and good benefits. Yet even there, in a state government job, I experienced what I’d call harassment and discrimination by a supervisor. Things hadn’t changed much by 1980 it seems. One day, my supervisor asked me to pick up some heavy charts and medical records and bring them to her. After I did, and she said, in the presence of others, “I just wanted to see if you could do it.” I was so humiliated and embarrassed. Back then I don’t think many knew what, if any, actions could be taken when subjected to that kind of harassment and discrimination at work.
After the 1940s, I never once saw a doctor for polio again until the 1980s. I attended a meeting of people who had been living with polio for many years. It was held in the same hospital I had been in as a young girl. All sorts of medical professionals were there – doctors, nurses, social workers, psychiatrists, psychologists and physical and occupational therapists. I walked out of that meeting and sat in the hallway as they discussed Post Polio Syndrome. Aggravated, I said, “There’s nothing ‘wrong’ with us, we’re just worn out from trying to act how you think is ’normal.’” Everyone within ear shot agreed with me. We pushed ourselves. I knew many people with polio from my three lengthy hospital stays, a social club and three years at a camp (Camp Greentop in Thurmont, MD) for children with disabilities. We were all considered “type A” and over achievers.
Throughout my 40s, I continued to work, but did not drive. One morning, I woke up to an announcement on the radio saying, “We excel at teaching older and disabled people how to drive.” I made an appointment with the company and the rest is history. I learned to drive with hand controls and continue to drive to this day at the age of 83. It’s a privilege and I am grateful that I am still able to drive, and for the technology that makes it possible.
To be continued….
(Check out Part I of the series.)