The below NDEAM Spotlight was written by Kim Hill, Disability Integration Specialist at the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management, who also lives with SMA Type II.
Hello! My name is Kimberly or Kim Hill. I am a 34-year-old from Oklahoma with SMA Type II. I am trached and use a ventilator full time and I can only use my left thumb myself. I can speak but I am difficult to understand, so I communicate mostly through text on my computer. I have always had a hopeful and defiant spirit, but I never really planned for college or getting a job because I always conquered life one challenge at a time. This attitude got me a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Oklahoma State University and I am one thesis short of a Master of Science degree from Oklahoma State University. The Department of Rehabilitation Services paid for school and my assistive technology.
I work part-time from home for the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management as their Disability Integration Specialist. Emergency management includes the preparedness, response, mitigation, and recovery aspects for dealing with an emergency or disaster within a community. My job is to make emergency management in Oklahoma more inclusive of people with disabilities and access and functional needs. Oklahoma has quite a few natural disasters, so it keeps me busy.
Like most college students, I was not sure what I wanted to do with my life. I liked government and helping people, so I got a B. A. in political science and I did some volunteer work in research for a few electoral candidates. All of that got me nowhere in finding a job. I even got a job coach which was both incredibly frustrating and amusing. I was getting really discouraged with her and finding a job, but I knew there had to be something I could do from home to help people, so after the May 2013 Oklahoma tornadoes I started volunteering for social media emergency management and I loved it. I highly recommend starting out as a volunteer just to see what you enjoy doing and you can make connections there as well.
Because my political science degree was not as useful as I thought it would be, I went back to school and started studying fire and emergency management online. I had a classmate who worked for the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management and I asked him if they had anyone working with people with disabilities after disasters and they did not. My classmate told his boss about me and after a chance meeting with his boss, who was then the director of OEM, I had my dad tell the director that I wanted to help him with the disability community and that I would volunteer or intern for him because he needed someone like me. Surprisingly, he agreed, and my position was created.
Because I can only use my left thumb and a switch to control my computer, I must utilize assistive technology to do everything. My workplace bought me a GoPro camera for when my team is out in the field after a disaster so I can go with them. I bought a Beam+ Robot before I actually started working there and now it lives in my office so I can attend meetings and such. If you haven’t seen one, it’s like a big FaceTime on wheels. I have been very lucky in that my coworkers have been great and very inclusive of me in everything that they do. It could be because causing a ruckus when people are not inclusive is part of my job, though! 🙂
It’s bizarre, but the most challenging part of me getting a job as a person with a disability was getting Medicaid to follow their own laws! When I first started trying to get a job, DHS kept telling me that I would lose my Medicaid benefits just by working and that is NOT true. I had to school DHS on the federal law 1619B, which allows you to keep Medicaid while working. I can’t make a lot of money, but I can work and keep Medicaid benefits. The amount of money you can earn and keep Medicaid is different in each state so always do your own research and never take DHS’ word as gospel.
My advice for anyone looking for a job is to find something you enjoy doing and do well, make connections wherever you are, be bold, and never be afraid to ask if you can help with whatever it is. You never know unless you ask! What I really want to get across is that if I can go to school and get a job with only one working thumb, ANYONE can if they want to and believe that they have something to offer!
Thank you to Kim for sharing her experiences and perspective in navigating higher education and employment with Cure SMA!