Dayniah Manderson is a tenured New York City school teacher with a master’s degree in School Leadership from New York University. She was born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type II and uses a power wheelchair.
Dayniah states that despite her professional qualifications she feels as if other people’s perception of her disability may hinder her career opportunities. She gives an example of a job interview where she had made it through three rounds of rigorous phone interviews with the last interview being the first face to face meeting.
“The interviews had gone so well, I was certain a job offer would soon follow,” she says. However, when Dayniah met with her interviewer she noticed a sense of discomfort. The interviewer was fidgeting and did not ask her any questions about her career attributes. Instead, Dayniah was asked one question: How was she able to get her students to listen to her?
“The implication behind her question was clear: She didn’t think my students pay attention to me. Despite 14 years of exemplary performance evaluations, including high ratings for classroom management, somehow she believed my skills were wanting.”
Dayniah was later informed she was not selected for the position. She states, “Meeting me for the first time, my interviewer saw a woman in a motorized wheelchair. She didn’t see a black woman. She didn’t even see a capable professional. What she saw was a disabled person.”
Throughout Dayniah’s educational journey there have been programs that she has not able to take full advantage of because of the lack of disability access.
“The reality of living with a disability means that my physical needs had to be met before I could work toward any goal. I had to consider whether the “reasonable accommodations” that employers are required to provide under the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act — certain protections are guaranteed by law — would allow me to participate.”
She gives an example of one such program while she was a student at CUNY-NYC, the Leadership Academy Program for Future Middle School Principals. After trying out the program for a while, Dayniah had to eventually drop out because of inaccessibility issues.
She writes, “In a society where the infrastructure is designed for able-bodied individuals, most people can’t conceptualize how challenging it can be for people with physical disabilities. A small thing we take for granted — going to the bathroom in a public place — can present a serious problem when there are no bathrooms that are wheelchair accessible.” Dayniah had to consider the long-term effect having to wait to go to the bathroom would have on her body and overall health.
Not to mention, there were times when Dayniah was late to class because she was stuck outside waiting. The only wheelchair accessible entrance was in a part of the building where one had to be let in by security. “I made peace with the fact that this program was not the best option for me. While I valued the program and felt supported by the administrators, there wasn’t a protocol for the program to deal with a situation like mine,” says Dayniah.
Dayniah has used her experiences to help her delve deeper into the role of a teacher. She concludes, “It is with great pride that I leave home each day to serve my community, my colleagues and my students with dignity, resourcefulness, intelligence, and professionalism. My role, as I see it now, is to show how much of an impact a person with a disability can have in the world. I want people to see what we can do.”
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