Tim first connected with Disability Network as a customer and a volunteer. After completing college he wanted to work where he could use his degree in social work and his disability to have a positive impact on others — Disability Network is that place. Tim has been employed with us for 17 years.
I was first introduced to the independent living philosophy as a customer and volunteer at Disability Network when I was in my teens and early twenties; the agency’s name back then was Kalamazoo Center for Independent Living (KCIL). In those days, I worked hard to hide my disability, but as I came to understand the CIL philosophy, I accepted my disability more and more and found it was something that I could embrace. I stepped away from Disability Network to focus on schooling. My effort to become educated and to accept my disability helped me understand that my unique qualities and experience could be used positively to educate and support others in the disability community.
As I started my career in social work, as an individual with a disability, I felt I never fit in with other professionals. My disability was not valued by other agencies that I worked for and was an issue at times. I very much wanted to find a job where I could use my degree in social work and my disability together to have a positive influence on others and the community. Disability Network was that agency. Here I work as a social worker with a disability where my personal knowledge and lived-experience is valued and can be shared in a helpful way.
I’ve worked at Disability Network for seventeen years, originally as an Independent Living Specialist and now as an Information & Referral Specialist. Through my work here I can assist others with disabilities to feel valued and see their unique gifts; helping them understand that they have something to contribute to the community. Working in Information & Referral, I have the opportunity to help people with a wide variety of issues. I enjoy learning new things so that I can assist others in navigating through various systems. The most rewarding part of my job is when I start working with a customer who is resistant to their disability, they might not even admit that they have a disability, but over time they come to value my understanding of them. They trust my knowledge and what we have accomplished together; they start to look at themselves differently and accept their disability, and it becomes less of a negative label for them. This is very rewarding work and these are the customers who tend to remain connected to the agency, and to me, for many years.