Look Ma, No Hands

This month, companies around the U.S. elevate disability awareness with an emphasis on inclusive practices.

Jessica Cox obtained her certificate as an armless pilot. [Courtesy: Jessica Cox]

October is National Disability Employment Awareness month (NDEAM). This month, companies around the United States try to elevate disability awareness with an emphasis on inclusive practices. 

I remember my very first job. I was in high school and applied to work at a nearby university. It was essentially a telemarketing job asking for donations for the university. I remember reading

the job description—type 30 words per minute, basic computer skills, and talking on the phone. I had all the qualifications, but I was apprehensive. Would they be able to see past my not having arms? 

I remember going into the job interview with so much doubt creeping in. A pleasant surprise greeted me at the office. As I sat down, I saw one of the employees—he was using a white cane. He was blind. He walked over to his computer, set down his cane, took his seat, put on his headset, and began to work. I immediately thought, "If this company is inclusive enough to employ an employee who is blind, then I stand a chance." I am happy to say I got the job.

Jessica Cox writing at a desk around the time of her first job. [Courtesy: Jessica Cox]

Not everyone is as fortunate as I was. No story is more memorable than that of my friend, Randy Green, when it comes to getting a job in aviation as a person with a disability. 

I met Randy at EAA AirVenture a few years ago. He came up to me and introduced himself. I noticed he did not have hands and used prosthetic legs. He said he started flying with an Ercoupe that his father purchased so he and his brother could learn to fly. He loved flying so much that he wanted to be a professional pilot. Randy's instructor mentored him on what he needed to do to turn his hobby into a professional career. He now works for the FAA as an aviation safety inspector, and he loves it. I want to share his story of how things will not always be easy.

Persevering Through the Challenges

One of the worst rejections he experienced was when he received his first job offer in aviation. The employer hired him over the phone. He drove through a snowstorm in South Dakota for two days to get to the job site while keeping his hiring manager updated on when he would arrive. 

When he finally reached the office, the manager looked at him and said, "I'm sorry, someone

else got the job." I cannot think of a more transparent case of employment discrimination.

Thankfully, Randy believes that "while the easiest thing is to feel like giving up, the hardest thing to actually do is give up on your passion."

Randy Green [Courtesy: Jessica Cox]

Randy, with his indomitable spirit, surprisingly wants to thank that manager because that experience made him push harder to prove himself. The advice he would like to share with employers is to keep an open mind. They can look at a candidate with a disability and say, "I have my doubts. I don't want to hire you." Instead, they should expand the horizon of what they think is possible and say, "I have my doubts, but I will give you a chance."

Ultimately, that is what all of us, disabled or not, have to do every day in the workplace—prove ourselves capable of meeting the demands of our jobs. We need an equal chance like everyone else. I am grateful to Randy and many others out there, who, despite the pushbacks, show up for work every day and do an excellent job. I also want to thank the many organizations that support people with disabilities in the workplace. I know you are reaping the benefits of inclusivity—a workplace made more robust by diversity.

Happy NDEAM!

Born without arms, Jessica Cox is the first and only licensed armless pilot in aviation history. When she’s not flying a 1946 Ercoupe in Arizona, Jessica trains in Taekwondo, mentors children with limb differences, and travels the world as a keynote speaker.

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