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Intersection of Identities

Read John's blog about the Intersection of Identities

By John Samuel

For the past 6-years, I have associated the month of May to Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), which is a day that we celebrate to get people talking, thinking, and learning about accessibility. It’s why we host GAAD Raleigh (which you really need to attend!) And for the past 7-years of my life, my identity has really revolved around my blindness, and accessibility has been tightly woven in with this.   

However, I’m also an Indian American, and the month of May is Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

My Dad had immigrated to the United States in the late 60’s from India. But when I think of my Dad, as a kid growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, I didn’t see him as an Executive of a Fortune 500 technology company, which he was. But rather, he was the tough nosed immigrant Dad, who would ask me “Is this how you want to live your life?” when I was constantly getting into trouble!

I never really appreciated the challenges that he had to overcome in his career as an Indian immigrant. To me, his identity revolved around being my Dad. I knew that he had grown up in a small town in southwest India and came to the US with little spoken English. I also had heard how he had come to America, with less than $7 in his pocket. However, I took it for granted how he was able to turn that into a life of privilege for my sister and me.

That all changed when I got my first office job.

It was the summer after high school graduation, and I had a job at my Dad’s company, Nortel, as a summer Co-op.  Every morning when you started up your computer, the first thing you would see would be the company’s internal intranet webpage. One day during my Co-op, when I started up my system, and looked at the intranet site, my Dad was being highlighted. As I read the article about him, and everything he had accomplished in his nearly 30-year career with the company at that time, I saw a different side of him that he didn’t bring home.

For many people, the first thing you ask someone you meet for the first time is “What do you do?” This was definitely the first question that people use to ask when I lived in Washington DC! It was this question though, that really influenced me to want to help create employment for people who were blind, because so much of our identity is tied up in what we do for a profession – for better or for worse.   

However, working with our candidates in the Ablr Works program has given me a new appreciation of the obstacles and barriers that my Dad had to overcome when he was starting his career. It also gives me hope for our candidates, because my Dad is the perfect example of what is possible when you have grit and resilience, and this is what I see in many of our candidates!

However, my Dad will be the first to tell you, that he didn’t get to his position alone, but he had great mentors and allies along the way. That’s true for our Ablr Works Candidates as well. We are so thankful to everyone who has played a role in setting our candidates up for success, from the mentors, Counsellors, guest speakers, and Ablr staff! It’s because of all of you, our candidates are starting to land jobs, and that’s a new part of their identity, which is definitely worth celebrating!

 Wishing you all a happy Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and Global Accessibility Awareness Day!