Diversity Career Stories Journalism

Disabled journalist overcomes discrimination, finds happiness

This freelance writer of 13 years shares how she has overcome physical disabilities and discouragement from others in order to pursue her dreams as a journalist. In her own words:

In the eyes of many, I am not your typical writer, because I am disabled.

I suffered a brain hemorrhage at the age of nine. This left me unable to walk, and unable to use my left hand. From the moment I was taken home in a wheelchair, vocational counselors and even close friends doubted that I would ever make it as a journalist, much less a writer. I had to learn to walk again. I had to master the art of doing everything in a different way, including manipulating a keyboard with one hand, but still, people didn’t think I could make it as a writer.

So why did I choose journalism?
I’ve always been very determined. Despite my disability, I knew that I could do something with my writing abilities. I also believed that dreams can come true. My dream was to become a writer; a full-fledged, college educated writer. Day after day, educators told me I was not intelligent enough to go to school or do anything on my own. If people told me I couldn’t do something, I did the exact opposite. So, instead of listening to educators, I chose the path less taken. I became a journalist.

I sat through innumerable writing and reporting classes. I studied the inverted pyramid, and took any freelance writing gig I could possibly get my hands on. I drove my professors crazy requesting internship after internship.

I landed a few reporting internships and had established myself in the journalism community. People knew me. Sources were calling me to come back and take pictures, or to write more stories. The work was absolutely rewarding. For the first time, I was doing what I loved, and no one could tell me that success was impossible. I was living it, I was there.

Where did my career begin?
I started my journalism career with a small community newspaper in a Baltimore suburb. While working as a reporter, I attended a small community college, and later transferred to Towson University.

I picked journalism not only because I loved writing, but also because it got me out of the house, and into the world. It allowed me to gain knowledge, to be heard. Finally my name was in the headlines.

What challenges have I faced?
Of course, life takes us in many different directions. In 2007, I was working in Washington, DC as a technical writer. Then I lost my job. After a brief lull, I restarted my writing career as a freelance writer. Freelance exchange websites once again made it possible to propel myself into the writing world.

My typical day:
I have been a freelance writer for over thirteen years now. A typical day consists of me powering up my desktop computer and working on my most recent project. All day, I am glued to my computer screen. I spend my mornings weeding through emails and researching my most recent writing subject. I communicate with people on the other side of the world, people from New Zealand, England and the far reaches of Australia.

Discrimination as a disabled journalist:
I am Caucasian. I have, however, been denied jobs. Some don’t think a disabled individual is capable of holding a job. An editor at a big legal newspaper once sent me out the door when he heard I didn’t drive. Who’d ever heard of a disabled reporter?

I decided that questioning why employers discriminated wouldn’t do me any favors. So I simply moved on, knowing full well that something better was waiting around the corner. Ethnicity didn’t matter. I’d been discriminated upon by both men and women of many ethnic backgrounds.

Who doubted me, and what did I learn?
I once had a professor tell me I would never make it as a journalist or a writer. Everyone has an opinion, so I didn’t take it personally. I simply went on and became an assistant editor and then a reporter once again

How did I start out?
Oddly enough, I started my writing career as a greeting card writer. I wrote for a few small greeting card companies, which later led me to write for national magazines.

Time away from work:
In my field, I’ve learned that vacations aren’t always an option. If I have a deadline, it has to be met. All my stories are stored on my personal computer. If I do have the opportunity to get away for a weekend, my husband’s laptop is my best friend. But at times, this doesn’t leave time to truly enjoy a getaway.

Misconceptions about my career:
Many people think being a journalist or freelance writer makes you a celebrity. It helps you make friends, no doubt, but it doesn’t make you famous. Many days are spent in solitude writing quietly from my living room. My job as a freelance writer moves my heart in many ways.

How does writing change my heart?
In my work, I have watched angry businessmen turn into soft spoken colleagues. People who once cussed me out later praised me for my kindness. I’ve seen miracles happen. I once covered a story about a fire at an animal hospital. Amazingly, people stopped their cars to save the animals. Everyone survived. It’s stories like these that make it all worthwhile.

In my career as a freelancer, I have also established myself as a relationship writer. I write about breakups, saving marriages and even finding “the one.”

I speak from experience, because I have found “the one.” Not only did I tie the knot, I have found the perfect marriage between writing and happiness.