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I've been impressed recently that several people at the upper levels of the mobility industry have pulled me aside, noting the discouraging lack of those with disabilities working in the mobility industry, wishing that there were more wheelchair users in the related workforce. After all, the lack of wheelchair users, overall, working in the mobility industry has long troubled me, too, where such a lack of user-employees defies common business sense. For example, software development firms are full of computer geeks; boat builders are full of boaters; and, fashion designers are full of style divas. Yet, in the wheelchair industry, as a whole, there's a striking shortage of those of us who actually use wheelchairs, where, industry wide, we are less than 1% of the workforce. And, it makes no sense. Imagine for a moment if only 1% of those working in the smart-phone industry actually relied on smart phones – the slogan would likely be, Sorry, we don't have an app for that.

Of course, most working in the mobility industry don't have disabilities, but do fantastic work, no less. Yet, as candid industry employees have told me, despite their dedication and talent, they ultimately don't know what it's truly like to have a disabilty, they don't know what it's like to rely on a wheelchair as an around-the-clock lifeline – physically or emotionally. And, I commend such colleagues because when they're intelligent enough to admit that they can never truly understand the human interface with a mobility product in its entirety, they're also wise enough to use that acknowledgement as inspiration to strive to fuller understand disability experience – and that makes for better products and services.

Still, we have the question of, why is only less than 1% of the mobility industry's workforce comprised of those who have disabilities and rely on the products? Is there some discriminatory aspect of the mobility industry that prevents those with disabilities from entering it?

Absolutely not. Oddly, it's not that companies don't hire those with disabilities; rather, it's that those with disabilities rarely pursue careers in the mobility industry. The mobility industry, like most industries, has every conceivable career path, from as obvious as sales, marketing, and R&D, to as behind the scenes as accounting and I.T. In this way, no matter one's skill set or field, there's likely a position in the mobility industry that one with a disability who's qualified can fill. But, we simply don't see those with disabilities drawn to our industry in the quantities that many of us would like. What's even more striking is that when we look at educational programs that specifically apply to the mobility industry – rehabilitation technology, rehabilitation engineering, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and rehabilitation counseling – we see exceptionally few students with disabilities enrolled. That is, non-disabled students are actively pursuing coursework toward the mobility field, whereas students with disabilities aren't. Therefore, it's not that the mobility industry excludes those with disabilities; instead, those with disabilities simply don't train or apply for jobs in any notable numbers within the mobility industry.

The other issue that I've seen over the years is that some with disabilities who have had job offers within the mobility industry have turned down the positions based on not wanting to relocate. Surely, there are accounting, marketing, sales, and engineering jobs in every town, but if one is to work at a corporate headquarters of a mobility manufacturer, they'll likely have to relocate to Washington, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, or California – and those with disabilities, as they've expressed to me, have refused to relocate, choosing to stay in their geographic comfort zones. (Me, not so much – I was willing to move anywhere in the country to pursue my passion in the mobility industry, ultimately moving entirely cross-country, from California to Pennsylvania 10 years ago).

And, it's a shame that more with disabilities aren't willing to pursue careers in the mobility industry – namely because the mobility industry has so much to offer, and those with disabilities have so much to offer it. When I look at me at Pride, Jim Black at Invacare, Darren Jernigan at Permobil, and Marty Ball and Josh Anderson at TiLite, to name a few of us, we've all been blessed, as those with disabilities, with terrific careers in the mobility industry, where we're privileged to assist our peers who use wheelchairs, all while making a terrific living toward supporting our families – that's a meaningful career path all the way around. And, we're always eager to see others join our ranks.

Logically, I can understand why it never occurs to some to consider the mobility industry as a career path, as disability can be an emotionally harrowing experience, where many simply wouldn't look at their wheelchairs and say, “Wouldn't it be great to work for the company that made this!” (though, that's exactly what occurred to some of us who truly recognized the liberation that wheelchairs offer). Yet, again, who better to work for a mobility manufacturer than someone with an education and terrific work experience – whom also happens to use a wheelchair and understands disability experience? It just makes sense.

If you're one with a disability looking for a career path, I encourage you to look into the mobility industry. If you're gearing up for college or retraining, rehabilitation engineering and technology degree programs provide a rock-solid educational gateway into the mobility industry, both at the manufacturer and provider levels (and colleges across the United Stated now offer such programs). And, if you already have a degree in a given field – again, from marketing to accounting, and all in-between – don't overlook the mobility industry as a potential source of employers. Most manufacturers post open positions on their corporate web sites, as well as on job search engines like Monster.com.

What's more, don't let your disability deter you from moving across the state – or across the country! – for a career opportunity. Many of us with severe disabilities have made large geographic moves, leaving support systems behind, heading for harrowing unknowns, all for a better job. And, it's never easy during the move. However, short-term sacrifices are well worth long-term success, where there's tremendous liberation to making such moves. You learn in the process that your potentials are far greater than you ever realized, that the fact that you have the guts and skill set to make such moves – geographically and emotionally – puts you far more in control of your life. Once you've made one huge geographic move, you then know how to do it again, where if you're ever in need of a job change, the entire country – if not globe – becomes your job market. Truly, your willingness to move anywhere for a job is an amazing career advantage as one with a disability (or without).

No, simply using a wheelchair doesn't qualify you to work in the mobility industry. However, if you have a great education, a proven skill set, and a passion for your work – and you so happen to use a wheelchair as a bonus to your experience! – the mobility industry might be the right career path for you.

Published 1/2011, Copyright 2011, WheelchairJunkie.com