I am a young, disabled registered dietitian nutritionist — not someone you encounter every day! In general, I’ve learned that most people don’t even think about disabilities until one happens to them or someone they know. And people often don’t consider that living with a disability is so much more than the disability itself. It’s a constant rotation of medications, doctor visits and symptom management on top of typical responsibilities like home maintenance and/or having a career.
For individuals with disabilities like myself, it can feel like we are forced to exist in an inaccessible society that is constantly working against us. For instance, did you know businesses can say they are accessible simply because they have a ramp, even if it’s on the backside of the building and leading to stairs? I have been publicly harassed more times than I can count for using handicap parking spots (though I have a license plate), simply because I’m young and don’t “look” disabled. I have also been called a “faker” when using my wheelchair because I can move my legs. Disability doesn’t discriminate like people do — it affects young and old, rich and poor and everyone in between.
I’ve been in and out of medical buildings since birth — that’s 30 years of invaluable experience! I have dealt with incredible people who make situations bearable and people who are cold and unsympathetic and make situations worse. The medical field was where I had the most experience, so it made sense to me to choose it as my career.
I wanted to be one of the “good ones,” to help ease a patients’ minds and hearts, so I became a dietitian. Nutrition is an incredibly important part of life for every single person regardless of health, age or socioeconomic status, and one that, surprisingly, many people know so little about. A few months ago, five years into my career, I finally achieved my dream of working in the neonatal ICU and can truly say I love going to work every day. I have been tasked with helping premature babies grow outside of the womb as well as they would have inside the womb. It is incredibly tough, but so rewarding!
Working in healthcare, you might assume the culture is much more accepting of people with disabilities compared to “the outside world,” given their level of exposure to it. You would, however, be sadly mistaken. During my five years as an RDN, I have been routinely questioned regarding my ability to do my job and have been asked why I’m working simply because I do things sitting down, as if sitting lowers my IQ. I have had to self-advocate for reasonable accommodations that often never came and I’ve had physicians call me out in front of an entire unit to question my ability to speak with a patient simply because I’m in a wheelchair.
I believe employers should seek out employees with disabilities! As an individual with a disability, I have a motivation and drive to prove myself, and I am extremely hard-working. I have a unique perspective that is vital to quality healthcare and I am a creative problem solver because of a lifetime of having to adapt to an inaccessible world. Individuals with disabilities may have to do things a little differently, but we can do them just as well (if not better).
The team behind Food & Nutrition Magazine® aims to amplify the voices of people of color and other underrepresented individuals in nutrition and dietetics and highlight the experiences of RDNs, NDTRs, dietetic interns and nutrition and dietetics students. Our goal is not only to stand in solidarity, but also help inform our readers and increase awareness about the importance of diversity in the field of nutrition and dietetics. We know it’s not enough, but we hope it’s a step in the right direction that will support meaningful conversations and a positive change in the profession.