From Where I Sit:
I came to State College for the money.
In March 2002, I was sitting in the Office of Professor Elias Mpofu, program head for Penn State’s Rehabilitation Counseling Program, a program I was just invited to join.
Professor Mpofu asked, “Why did you decide to come to Penn State?”
“For the money,” I said. “No one would give me more money than Penn State.”
Professor Mpofu gave me a look of deep understanding. We spent the rest of the visit discussing Professor Mpofu’s specialty; primitive African beliefs on illness and disability. Professor Mpofu published a well-received paper about a Tanganyika ritual where the magic powers help a disabled person use secret forces to be liberated from the disability. (Yes, I did ask Professor Mpofu to perform the ritual on me and he is taking a long time getting back to me.)
By accepting Professor Mpofus’ academic offer I was agreeing to a career path ending in my becoming an Occupational Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) Counselor for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. My job as an OVR counselor would be to help people with disabilities get jobs. Walking was part of the job description for the job Penn State was training me. I do not walk.
Therefore, no matter how well trained I am there’s no way I can become an OVR counselor without being able to walk to people’s homes where the home is not
From Where I Sit accessible. Being able to walk is job critical. With a single stroke of the pen, I had signed up for a grant from the government to make me the moral equivalent of able-bodied when the government had determined just two years earlier (at great governmental expense) that I am permanently disabled.
The attraction for me of being an OVR counselor is best described in the recollections of Abraham Nemeth, a scientist who is blind and who has become a mentor to the still-trendy summer camps specializing in teaching science to low-vision students. Nemeth’s biographer Carol Castellano writes, “Dr. Nemeth says that he was discouraged from making mathematics his undergraduate major by vocational counselors because of his blindness and the lack of Braille materials. He acquiesced and switched to psychology instead. But take a look at the courses he chose for his electives at college—analytical geometry and differential and integral calculus....”
I wanted to be a successful vocational rehabilitation counselor. I believe I have a special calling based on my disability experiences to transform my experiences with assistive technology to make it easier for people with disabilities to use new technical equipment to get higher paying jobs leading to a career.
Now, I am on medical leave from the Rehabilitation Counseling Program. My health has not been good, but not as bad as it sounds. Last year, I was in the hospital three times, once for diabetes that nearly killed me; second for treating difficult pneumonia, and the third time to evaluate a badly damaged right shoulder that requires a shoulder replacement operation where the technology has not kept up with shoulders. The medical field has made great progress with knees and hips, but not with replacing an entire shoulder. The result, no shoulder surgery for at least 25 years and periods of pain.
In my last column, I promised to provide you with my personal financial information. Last year (2008), I earned a total income of $21,256.80. All my income came through my monthly Social Security check. Out of a monthly check of $1,688.00, Medicare, my only health insurance (helpful during the period when I was in the hospital last month) deducts $210 off the top. Rent and electricity costs $830 and $145 for phone and high speed computer (I have daughters in two different states).
I have hopes of economic redemption through…
I want out of poverty. And I want a job that will earn me a way out of poverty. [Insert Sylvester Stallone Rocky Theme Song here.]
—Joel Solkoff, author of The Politics of Food.