Sorry, I don't know anybody like that. I was dismayed when I read the email, but it's not surprising. I spent months of last year trying to find somebody who fit an extremely narrow definition: somebody who had a successful career in International Relations, with a disability, who was willing to talk. I have a number of professors and connections who fit the first criterion, and there are many who fit the second, but the third has been impossible to find.
As a recent graduate, the importance of networking for my career has been etched into my brain through its constant repetition: 70 to 80 percent of jobs are not posted through "traditional" means (such as online job searching), but instead go unpublished. To access these opportunities, you need connections. But career mentors don't just provide connections and access to opportunities: they can be just as vital for helping a worker navigate the challenges of building their career and exploring the many directions their ambitions could take. Mentors offer advice based on their direct experience in the field.
For workers with disabilities, career challenges can be especially daunting. Exploring the issues of accommodations and flexibility can be intimidating because they require cooperation from employers who may or may not empathize with their situation or understand their needs. The disability demographic is also chronically underemployed (or unemployed) and underpaid. These challenges combined make mentors with both field experience and disability experience extremely valuable. The problem? They also seem to be extremely rare.
My search for a mentor with a disability has since shifted from International Relations to career mentors in general. In November and December of last year, I started a letter writing crusade to many individuals and organizations that I thought could provide assistance with the challenge of finding mentors and resources for career-minded people with disabilities, specifically women (as a previous blog post explained, I find that there are similarities between issues for women and persons with disabilities in the workplace). Although I had a few successes, one of which resulted in my first Huffington Post blog, my letters went largely unanswered.
Therefore, I am moving to a much more public platform to make my plea: mentors with disabilities, we need you to speak up. In every field and every career level, your experience with balancing your disability challenges and your career obstacles could help other passionate individuals to navigate their careers and could help to obliterate the discrimination and stereotypes persons with disabilities face in the workplace. The image of successful and unique workers with disabilities will pave the way for more individuals with disabilities to contribute their skills and passions in every field. Mentors without disabilities, especially career experts and leaders, can contribute by listening, rejecting stereotypes, and helping to break down obstacles. The visibility and voices of these mentors, with and without disabilities, could mean that someday, nobody will be told that there is "nobody like that" to help them find their true potential and achieve their dreams.