Posted On: March 30, 2022
Pamela Chavez, one of our first virtual Starkloff Career Academy students, is building her career and flourishing in the community she found through her disability identity.
Living with her disability since birth, Pamela Chavez has Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI), also known as “brittle bone disease,” a genetic bone disorder characterized by fragile bones that break easily.
“I have Type III OI, which is one of the most severe forms,” Pamela shares. “I’m about 3 feet tall, I fracture very easily and my body shape is different. I can’t walk or stand, so I use my power wheelchair to get around.”
Pamela had to navigate many barriers as a kid with a disability. Both of her parents immigrated to the United States from Mexico and she is the first known person in her family with a disability. Pamela remembers her parents not understanding what disability resources were available.
“It was very difficult for them at first because they didn’t know English,” Pamela explains. “They didn’t know the ADA existed, so there was that barrier while getting to know the country while also having a child with a disability.”
Those experiences, coupled with no disabled role models in her family or the media, Pamela’s journey to disability pride was a difficult one. It started by developing confidence in herself when faced with significant bullying in school.
“I eventually spoke up because I accepted who I was,” Pamela recalls. “For me, I realized I’m not the things people are telling me I am. If you don’t know or accept who you are, then the world will tell you.”
Her radical acceptance empowered her to get connected with vocational rehabilitation services (Voc Rehab). They helped her pay for school, plan for her transition to adulthood, and navigate living independently.
Shaped by her early experiences navigating complicated systems and exclusion by her peers, Pamela became a fierce advocate for disability rights. She spent her college years interning at The Whole Person, a center for independent living in Kansas City, Missouri. As a Youth Services Specialist, she used her bilingual skills to help Spanish-speaking families navigate the resources available to them.
Pamela moved from Kansas City to Georgia and was ready for the next step in her life. One silver lining of the pandemic meant she was able to continue meeting with her regular Missouri Voc Rehab counselor virtually and learned about the online Career Academy class offered by SDI.
“I asked my counselor how I can improve my interview skills and build my resume to get started in the workforce,” Pamela explains.
Her counselor sent her the link to our Career Academy and she enrolled right away.
Starkloff Career Academy helped her navigate applying for positions, interview skills, and the dos and don’ts when you have a disability. On top of the professional development, Pamela found the other valuable component the Career Academy— a welcoming community of peers.
“People with disabilities come from all cultures, they come from everywhere,” Pamela observes. “Having a community where you share the same experiences and can learn from one another is great.”
Since graduating from the Career Academy, Pamela has been on an upward trajectory in her career. She now serves as a Bilingual Human Resources Associate for Home Depot, a position she credits to the Career Academy’s guidance and encouragement to never give up in the job search as well as the increased flexibility in remote work due to COVID-19.
Pamela is advocating for disability inclusion in all parts of her life. The foundation, Pamela explains, is that “it’s important to own your disability and say the word ‘disability’ instead of other terms.”
“If we keep hiding that word, we give people the assumption that everything is okay, when in reality, there are so many things that need to be done to level the playing field for people with disabilities. If the world were a garden and we were all flowers, our differences make the garden more beautiful.”