Personal Success Stories

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Personal Career Success Stories


Do you wonder how other people with disabilities overcame personal challenges and achieved career success?  Meet the following people with disabilities who have made it, and gain valuable insights and advice!


Featured Employees:

Leanna Deeds - Customer Service Operator
Roger Frank - Licensed Clinical Psychologist and College Counselor
Mike Goldhammer - Assistive Technology Computer Specialist
Craig Marineau - Civil Engineer


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Employee:      Leanna Deeds
Occupation:   Customer Service Operator
Employer:       Portland Community College


Challenges I faced and how I overcame them:

My name is Leanna Deeds, and I am blind.  I have a Bachelor's degree in journalism and political science from Pacific University that I received in 1969.  However, my journalism career lasted ten months, from September, 1971, to July, 1972.  It was part-time.  I worked for a shopper newspaper, and I was paid $10.00 each time I turned in a feature story.  I could not, in that time and place, have a better job because I could not take pictures, and I could not drive.  So, in July, 1972, when I was offered a full-time job with a salary and benefits as a secretary for the Office for Students with Disabilities at Portland Community College (PCC), I took it.  However, I am sure that my experience with higher education, and my understanding of how it operates, was one of the reasons I was hired, and I know my college education has helped me over the years.

Technology has also helped me overcome challenges.  I learned to read with an optacon, an electronic reading device which allows blind people to read printed material.  I also used an auxiliary camera with the optacon which fit onto a Selectric II typewriter.  This setup allowed me to proofread and correct typing errors while documents were still in the typewriter.

I moved to PCC's Cascade Campus in 1984.  During my thirteen years in three positions at Cascade, I read everything I could find to read with the optacon.  That was how I obtained the information I needed to help people.  PCC purchased the Selectric II typewriter, but the optacon, the auxiliary camera, and a Braille writer used for writing Braille were mine.  I furnished my own special equipment for twenty-five years.  It was necessary.  This is an important point because potential employers of people with disabilities are afraid to hire them because they fear additional expenses.  This was all prior to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 which provides Federal assistance and incentives for the purchase of special equipment for employees with disabilities.

I did not use a talking computer nor a Braille computer display until I came to my current position as a customer service operator on the PCC switchboard at the Sylvania Campus in 1998.  The Jaws screen reading and speech program now work well with the Braille display.  The computer finds the information which the callers ask for, and I receive it both in speech and in Braille.  The ADA helped provide funds for the special computer equipment, along with an electric Braille writer which I use to write phone numbers before dialing long distance calls.

Switchboards no longer have lights.  The board makes a sound when a call comes in.  I push a button to answer the call and dial on a regular phone pad to transfer the call.  I wear a headset, with the phone in one ear and the computer voice in the other ear.  That way, I only hear the phone and the computer's voice.

What kind of work I do:

I am a classified employee at Portland Community College.  My first position was secretary with the Office for Students with Disabilities from 1972 to 1984 at the Sylvania Campus.  My second position was counseling clerk and receptionist from 1984 to 1986 at the Cascade Campus.  My third position was information clerk at the Cascade Campus from 1986 to 1996.  My fourth position was admissions/advising/counseling clerk at the Cascade Campus from 1996 to 1997.  My current position, which I began in 1998, is customer service operator on the PCC switchboard at the Sylvania Campus.

How I got where I am today in my career:

I achieved what I have achieved in my career today by perseverance and hard work.  I believe people with disabilities, above all, must learn the value of hard work because they must work harder at everything they do than other people.  They must work hard every day.

I have a good attendance record at work.  It has served me well.  People with disabilities tend to have fewer other responsibilities in life because there are some things they can't do.  So, once they have a job, they can go to work every day.

I have used initiative at work to solve problems, especially my own.  Since I have always worked with people, I collect information at work, and I use it to help them.  I solve many small problems for people every day.

Strategies I would recommend to others:

People with disabilities, and all people, should learn the system, respect it, and make it work well for them.  I have done that all my life.  As the years passed, I decided that continuing to work for PCC would be easier than starting over with another employer because I am known for what I can do.

Advice I would give to others with disabilities who are starting to plan their careers or seek employment:

Always do your best.  Take advantage of any opportunities that come your way.  Use technology to help you.  When you get a job, stick to it.  I have been employed at PCC for more than thirty years.


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Employee:      Roger Frank, Ph.D
Occupation:   Licensed Clinical Psychologist and College Counselor
Employer:       Portland Community College


Challenges I faced and how I overcame them:

After my spinal cord injury in 1974, returning to college seemed difficult, if not impossible.  I had no means of transportation, very limited finger movement (to hold a pen to take exams or notes), and no sense of what my career or educational interests were.  However, I observed other quadriplegics going to school and figured there must be a way.  Transportation was the first obstacle -- I had to get there!  So I talked my father into purchasing an old Plymouth van, a 1962 model, I think.  No fancy lift or electronic ramp on this one, nor did it have a lowered floor or raised roof.  We built a crude wooden ramp and slid it up to the back doors of the van.  And with a running start each time, we got me inside.

Learning to write was my next big challenge.  In rehabilitation, the occupational therapist had tried all sorts of splints and other devices to assist me.  Unfortunately, they were difficult to put on and totally ineffective for holding the pen reliably.  So I tried doing it on my own without special equipment.  At first it was slow and my writing was hard to read, but as time went by I got faster and more efficient.  At times note-taking and written exams were physically painful on my fingers;  however, I'm happy having become self-reliant and independent. 

Choosing a career came easier.  After sampling classes in business, philosophy and journalism, I tried a psychology course.  It clicked for me.  It was no longer painful reading certain textbooks.  I was fascinated by all the different aspects of psychology and set a goal to one day earn a Ph.D. as a clinical psychologist.  I recognized the value of an advanced education, especially for a person with a disability, and I never looked back.

What kind of work I do:

I'm a clinical psychologist in private practice and a community college counselor.

How I got where I am today in my career:

It certainly took hard work, determination and commitment to my goals -- three aspects which were essential.  In addition, I became connected to others in my field, and that was critical.  My developing a "work support network" helped me to learn about jobs, opportunities, and key people to get in contact with.

Strategies I would recommend to others:

I would recommend the following:

  1. It helps to understand systems and how to navigate them, whether they are academic or organizational.  Once you understand the system and its rules, you have a better chance of self-advancement and success.

  2. Move out of your comfort zone and take risks.  Whether it be approaching someone with an idea or giving a speech to hundreds of people, we must face our fears and break through them.  Nothing is ever gained if we don't take risks.  No change can occur.  No success can take place.

  3. Join professional organizations in your field.  Become a board member or officer of some kind.  Take an active role and make a name for yourself.  Then take advantage of those connections.

Advice I would give to others with disabilities who are starting to plan their
careers or seek employment:

Discover your passion.  Go through a thoughtful, extensive career exploration process.  Take career interest tests, do informational interviewing, and at least for a brief time volunteer in the career field you are considering.  Your career choice is one of the most important decisions you will ever make.  Consequently, it's important to go through the process of making this decision thoughtfully and patiently.


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Employee:     Michael Goldhammer, BS, ATP
Occupation:  Assistive Technology Computer Specialist
Employer:      Mt. Hood Community College


Challenges I faced and how I overcame them:

I was born with a disability.  I have limited use of my hands and legs.  I use my mouth as a
means to access my world, such as using the computer, turning pages in books, and
manipulating tools that I designed myself.  During my childhood I struggled with being
"different":   Learning different ways of accomplishing tasks that others took for granted;
devising different strategies for accomplishing my goals and objectives;  focusing on the 
things I could do and not grieving on the things that I couldn't do.

Part of this process involved my self-esteem.  I looked for approval and was rewarded
for my intellectual abilities.  I've always had a keen interest in how things worked.  
Because of my physical limitations, I talked my brothers into building things, not always
with our parents' approval, however.

As an example, we built a motorized cart out of wood with a small gasoline engine that
had an automobile fan belt connecting two pulleys (one on the engine, and one on the
drive wheel).  The engine was attached to the cart on a piece of wood using hinges, 
and the belt was tightened using a length of pipe that raised the engine.  This arrangement
was in essence a crude clutch,  thereby allowing my brothers to control the speed  of
the vehicle.  Push down on the pipe to engage, and pull up on the pipe to slow down.
There were other modifications for braking and throttle.

During my high school years, I acquired a powered wheelchair to help me get around
school.  Incidentally, because of the increase in mobility, it opened up a whole new
world for me to explore.  I was able to visit many new and (to me) exciting places.  One
of my favorites was the local service station.  I watched how the mechanics repaired
and serviced the neighborhood vehicles.  Through this process I was able to expand
my understanding of the world and how it worked.

As you can see, curiosity and learning are important to me.  I spent hours reading many
different books from the local library.  I became more aware of possibilities, in my
environment and in myself.

What kind of work I do:

Currently I'm an Assistive Technology Specialist at a local community college.  I work
with students with many different kinds of disabilities who have the potential to use
technology to help in the learning process.  I specialize in computers and their role
in accessing knowledge.  I teach the skills to be successful using these mind 
machines.  If the personal mobility device helps the body move in the world, then
the computer can assist the mind to explore the world of information.

How I got where I am today in my career:

The simple answer is "blood, sweat and tears."  By this I mean persistence and
determination.  I sometimes joke that "stubbornness is a family tradition" -- whereas
it becomes a necessary process in not accepting limitations imposed by others.  
I need to experience life myself, not through the judgments of people.

The experimental process is not without its risks, however.  Up to this point, I've been
employed in over 12 different jobs.  Sometimes these changes required major
relocation to other cities and other states.  Not every situation was to my satisfaction,
and when because of external events (laid off) or internal need, I started to look for
another situation.  As you can see, change is a risky business.  The rewards have 
been worth the risks.

Strategies that have worked well for me in achieving career success:

Learning has always been a passion with me.  I read a lot.  I've also learned to develop
life goals.  I believe that goal-setting helps in achieving satisfaction.  Remember, 
they're my goals, and if I don't achieve them then I can re-evaluate what I wanted in
the first place.  It is the process that counts.

After developing goals, I continue the process by determining what steps are 
important to achieve the result.  Sometimes I don't know what I want.  Sometimes it
takes reverse thinking:  the steps of deciding what I don't want that can lead to 
positive results.

Huh, what was that again?

The following is a simplified example of a goal process.

Goal:  Choosing a car

1.  Supposition:  The vehicle chosen needs to fit a power wheelchair.
2.  Why?  Hard for me to get in and out of vehicles using the usual
     seating technologies because my knees don't bend, and I need
     my persona mobility device where I'm going!
3.  Eureka!  I need a van that is accessible to the wheelchair.
4.  What kind of van?
     A.  Big?  (Lift?)
     B.  Little?  (Ramp?)
     C.  New?
     D.  Used?
5.  How much money?

Obviously this decision-tree is not exhaustive, just a simple example.

I think you can guess what kind of career I'm focusing on next.  Yep, you got it.

Advice I would give to others with disabilities who are starting to plan
their careers or seek employment:

Use the internet!  It is the most comprehensive place I know to find information.
"Information is power", and people with disabilities need all the power they can
get!  Information is the cornerstone to success.

One of my favorite resources is What Color is Your Rainbow, by Richard Bolles.
It is still one of the best books on careers.

Here is his web site for reference:

As part of his site, there is a section on resources for people with disabilities:


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Employee:      Craig Marineau, BS 
Occupation:   Civil Engineer
Employer:       David Evans and Associates, Inc.


Challenges I faced and how I overcame them:

I was born profoundly deaf, raised in an oral program and attended classes in grade
school with other hearing impaired children.  I played with other hearing children in
my neighborhood.  I learned to use sign language during my first year at Portland
Community College.  One of the reasons I decided to learn sign language was to be 
able to have an interpreter in my courses, which helped me to understand more of 
what was going on in my classes and better communicate with deaf friends.  

Since I am not able to use the phone at work, I often use emails with co-workers and 
clients.  Email and the internet have helped me to have more responsibilities at work 
that I was not able to have before computers were widely used.  I have been using my 
MetroCall pager for over a year to exchange emails and read the news.  This has been 
a great addition since I cannot hear the news on the radio.

What kind of work I do:

I am a Civil Engineer with David Evans and Associates, a large private firm where
I have been working for over 14 years.  My role is mostly lead designer for most of
my projects that focus on such things as roads, streets and utilities.  I often use the
computer at my desk for AutoCad and MicroStation that run my design programs.
I have been registered as a Professional Engineer in Oregon since 1995, and in
Washington since 1996.

How I got where I am today in my career:

After graduating in Civil Engineering Technology at Portland Community College
with an A.A.S. degree and then Rochester Institute of Technology (in New York)
with a B.S. degree, I got a job related to my education.  While I was a student, I did
work as an intern at PGE, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and two private
engineering firms.  These experiences I had before entering the workforce.  I took
my professional engineering license while working at David Evans.  I started work
there as a hand drafter, worked my way up to using the computer and then became
licensed after several years on the job.

Advice I would give to others with disabilities who are starting to plan 
their careers or seek employment:

I would recommend to other hearing impaired people to get an internship job first 
to see what the workforce has to offer and see if they can meet the many different 
challenges like I did.


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