It was early afternoon and I was with a patient that was scheduled for surgery. She was frightened and I was trying to coordinate her admittance into the hospital system when a co-worker came and whispered into my ear that there was someone on the phone that was insisting that he had to talk to me. “He says that it’s very important.”
The caller was Ralph. I was shocked to hear his voice. He had had to do some investigative work to find out where I worked and how to get hold of me. He said that there was a meeting planned for Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. and it was imperative that I be there. The meeting was being held to investigate me, my application for employment, and my accusations of discrimination. “Be there!” was the last thing that he said to me.
I was escorted to the conference room by a man that quietly said, ’This wont do you any good. We don’t want ’crippled’ people in our department.”
My brain was screaming, “I’M NOT CRIPPLED!, I’M NOT CRIPPLED!” when he opened the door and led me into the room. The room contained a long conference table and around the table sat man after man after man. Ralph was there, but all the seats at the table had been taken so he had to stand off to the side, as did the man that had escorted me into the room.
I was asked to take the empty chair that was at one end of the table. Mr. R----- was there. But other then Ralph and Mr. R------ I had no idea who the men were and what they represented. It soon became clear.
They were the pro and the con squad. The good guys and the bad guys versus the ‘crippled’ girl. Half of them were on a mission to defend the company and half of them were on a mission to defend me.
They did the when’s, why’s, and ’what makes you think’s’ until my strength was almost to the breaking AND THEN ....................... they pulled my Employment Questionnaire out of a folder and laid it on the table.
“You lied on your Employment Questionnaire. This is a government-contracted company. There’s a statement on the questionnaire that says if you have been found to have lied .........................”
“And You Lied!”
Employment Questionnaire’s can no longer put this on the form, but in the ’70’s there was a small question:
“ARE YOU HANDICAPPED?” with two little boxes. One little box had“NO” written over it, the other little box had “YES” written over it. I had put an X in the “NO” box.
The company doctor had written on those cursed papers that I WAS handicapped, therefore to contradict what he had written meant I was a liar!.
But I had filled out the questionnaire BEFORE the doctor had written those words about me. Did that clear me of being a liar? NO!! Their defense of the actions taken against me was that I had lied.
OMG! How was I going to explain to a room full of men what it was like being raised by parents that refused to let that word be attached to me; what it was like being surrounded by doctors that refused to let that word be attached to me. I had never been called 'handicapped'. To have X'd the 'Yes' box would have been to deny my core being.
I started talking. I talked until I was exhausted with the subject and then I stood up, looked directly at Ralph said, “thank you”, and walked out of the room. The man that had told me they didn’t want crippled people in their department didn’t say a word to me as he escorted me out of the building.
A week later I got a phone call. “I have been authorized to offer you a position as a Clerk Typist. You will work for Mr. Ralph -------. You will be expected to start next Wednesday.
When I interrupted and said that I would have to give my present employer a two-week notice I was told this was a one-time offer; either accept or reject. No negotiating! A clerk typist; much less then I expected. No time to give a proper notice to the hospital; unprofessional. I accepted the offer!
I had to work so damn hard to get that job. I had to question my feelings about myself and my world. I had to accept that a funny little limp made me different, and to many people different meant I was ’handicapped’. But I NEVER accepted that word ‘handicapped‘. I was different, but I was not limited.
The Transportation Department assigned me a parking place eight blocks from the building I worked in. I was willing to walk the walk; I loved walking. Ralph was furious. His contention was, “if they are going to label you, they are going to treat you accordingly”. I got a parking place right next to the door, but I also got a permanent sticker plastered to my windshield that said “HANDICAPPED”. It took a long time to get over the humiliation of having that sticker on my car.
My office mate was shocked as hell when we met that first day. “I was told I was going to have a handicapped office mate. They told me I would probably have to assume some of your duties. You’re not handicapped. You just limp a little,” she said. “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell them,” I laughed.
Ralph and I had an odd relationship. There was always a curious tension between us, but that is another story. When I left the position of being his clerk typist he followed me. It would be that way for years. Never far apart, never close together. I’ll be eternally grateful for the steps he took to support me.
I was only a clerk typist for a short time. The company encouraged education and growth and I was allowed to fly as high as I wanted. I attained a position of status and responsibility. I even was able to hire ’handicapped’ people to work for me.
I worked there two years when one of the men in the department complained that I worked too hard. I found that hilarious!
The Company paid for the rest of my education.
And, although I periodically had trouble with someone that came in contact with the classification 'handicapped' I loved working there and I loved the people that became lifetime friends.