October has been National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and throughout the month, you have heard stories about adults in the workforce who live with SMA. We are pleased to close out our recognition of this month with a story from Angela Wrigglesworth of Texas.
On the first day of each new school year, Angela Wrigglesworth explains spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) to her students. “It [SMA] normalizes very quickly after that,” she says.
Angela, a self-described “student whisperer,” is a 42-year-old elementary school teacher from Houston, TX, who was diagnosed with SMA as an infant. Throughout her years in the classroom, she’s learned that SMA helps her establish bonds with her students, especially some of the more challenging ones. “They all want to help me, and I use it to my advantage. I have an abundance of teacher assistants,” Angela explains.
While she views teaching an energetic bunch of third graders as her ideal career, Angela began college as a business major. During a challenging day on Texas A&M’s campus, she got stuck on the railroad tracks that separated her from the business school. “I was quite unhappy, as you can imagine. I changed my major to education the next day because I would never have to cross those tracks again,” says Angela.
Angela earned a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from Texas A&M, and went on to earn a Master of Education in Multicultural Urban Special Education.
Because SMA affects individuals physically, Angela makes accommodations to her day-to-day routine. She uses a document camera instead of writing on the board, and she has a teacher’s aide half the day to help her complete the bigger, more physical tasks. Like most teachers in America, Angela also works from home at least a couple hours on weeknights, grading assignments and completing other administrative tasks.
“It’s a wonderful job if you’re able to be an entertainer from your chair. Kids need you to be ‘on’ the entire day,” Angela said. “Up until I started treatment with Spinraza, I had to fake stamina.”
Asking for accommodations at work is nerve-wracking but Angela’s advice is simple: “Be confident. The worst thing they can say is ‘no’. When interviewing with my last boss, I told him , ‘I know it’s expensive to hire me, but I’m worth it’. Be worth it in whatever career you choose.”
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