Doin’ what you can

The box of a Commodore 64
This was my first computer. Look at that blazing speed, raw processing power and a whole 64 kilobytes of memory to boot! You have to make a choice though: you can either save a 10-page word document or about 5 seconds of your favourite song in mp3 format. (Image from

From a young age, my parents always encouraged me to focus on my abilities and not dwelling on my disability–wise words I still cherish to this day. Looking back on it now, I’ve discovered my parents had ulterior motives to these sage words, aiming not just to make me feel better about disability but to inspire me to overcome it. You see, my parents figured out something very important out when I was just a little boy: they realized that slowly but surely I would grow up and, like all kids, there would come a time when they wouldn’t be there to support me anymore and I would be left to my own devices. Rather than dwelling on all the unfathomable barriers I would face in my life, my parents decided they would do whatever possible to give me the best opportunity to succeed and put me in a place where I could care for myself.

To them, this meant gainful employment for two main reasons: financial stability and workers benefits. This meant encouraging me to focus on a future career based on intellectual aptitude and not physical prowess. For obvious reasons, it likely wasn’t feasible for me to become a fighter jet pilot or a professional goaltender but it would be possible for me to work in an industry focused on creativity or intelligence. One of the ways they tried to set me up best for success was by getting me interested in computers are a very early age, as the tech industry is a job market where I could be fairly compete with nondisabled candidates for a job.

While my career path has taken me through University to my current work on a Doctorate in Media Studies, I appreciate that higher education to this degree is likely not an option for many. In fact, it’s safe to assume I’m in the minority (in terms of the disabled population). But being a career student (or hopefully a Professor some day) isn’t the only career choice possible for someone with a disability. For example, a recent post on the disability blog AbledBody explains that a new partnership in the US is aiming to teach youth with disabilities social media skills to give them training and opportunity to get corporate jobs as social communications specialists. Much like my parents, the goal of this partnership is to help these kids to maximize their abilities so they can be competitive in the corporate job market in a field where their disability won’t limit their ability to complete the job with minimal accommodation.

What’s particularly interesting to me is this internship seems to launching a revolutionary program based on common sense–people should do what they can and not dwell on what we cannot. If the best advice to people looking for work is to do what they love, I think the second best piece of advice would be to work in a field where you excel. By maximizing the abilities that you have while developing those that are weak you will be in a much better position to have a successful and happy career.

By Jeffrey Preston

Born with a rare neuromuscular myopathy, Jeff has spent his life dedicated to advocating for himself and others with disabilities. With a PhD in Media Studies from Western University, Jeff's research focuses on the representation of disability in popular and digital culture. Jeff is currently an Assistant Professor of Disability Studies at King's University College @ Western University in London, ON.

3 replies on “Doin’ what you can”

I haven’t been to this site in a while so I’m catching up on some of these posts. I totally agree with you…it’s not only about finding jobs you are capable of, but ones that you excel at.

I think that by and large, the North American market has become far too comfortable with mediocrity… a whole, not just in terms of the disabled population.

Also……just to address one of your points……I was talking to a friend of mine who is doing his PhD in Disability Studies, and he said that disabled individuals with an education above a B.A. hovers around 2%

That sound about right. I seem to remember reading a 2003 StatsCan number that hovered around 30% of PWDs graduate from high school so it would make sense that the number of BA+ would be minuscule.