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People See the Wheelchair before They See the Person

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Jack BahjatI was born with Muscular Dystrophy disability, and when I was a kid, things were a lot easier. For instance, the only thing I was thinking of were toys. However, after I grew up, I discovered that whenever I talk to a person, whether it is a teacher or an employer, they still treat me as if I’m a five-year-old kid even though I’m twenty-eight years old now. They use a high-pitched voice and have a phony smile on their face when they have a conversation with me. It happens to me almost every time. During the summer break, I tried to find a job, so I applied to a lot of different positions. I wanted to work to make some money.

Nonetheless, I only received a call from one company in El Cajon City. The company was new in business, and they told me that the job I applied for was temporary, and the job duties were to answer calls and edit documents in Microsoft Word. I said, “I’m majoring in Web Development, and of course I can work in this field.” Thus, they made an interview appointment for me.

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On the day of the interview, I dressed in a dark black suit with a bow tie. I felt weird because I always wear casual clothes when I go outside. With my suit and tie on, I went to the company, and as always, I drove my wheelchair there. At the front desk, I saw a young Asian American lady wearing cat eye glasses with red lipstick. I said, “Hi, how are you?” She responded with a normal slanting voice,” I’m good. How can I help you?” I said, “I have a job interview at two o’clock.” She said, “Wait in the hall till the interviewer is ready; He will call you.” I said, “Okay, thank you,” and I waited in that hall. I remember I was the only person there. The hall was quiet to the point that the only thing I could hear was the hall clock ticking. That clock ticking made me nervous about the interview. I was thinking of what to say. Unexpectedly, I saw a well-dressed man with a blue suit standing in front me who smelled incensed, and he said in a high-pitched voice as if he was talking to a child, “Hi Mr. Jack, my name is Collin and I will interview you today.” I replied with a deep voice trying to sound like a macho man, “Hi, it is nice to meet you.” He gave me a slight handshake. He only shook the tips my index, middle and the ring fingers only.Nevertheless, I followed Mr. Collin to his office room. In his office room, the only thing I was hearing was the air conditioner sound. There were a lot of folders on his desk, and I remember there were many wall vases in his office room. He said, “Let’s get started. Tell me, what happened to you?” I got surprised, and I questioned back, “What happened to me?” He chuckled and replied, “Um, I’m sorry to ask you this, but do you mind telling me about your condition?” To be honest, I was not ready for this kind of question because this was supposed to be a job interview, not a doctor’s appointment. I decided to answer his inquiries about my disability and how challenging it is. I tried to answer his questions briefly, but he kept asking personal questions. He asked too many personal questions that lastly, he asked me how far I can go with my power wheelchair. These questions were awkward because I assumed he would only ask me questions that were related to the job my personal, but he went far away. Then after all these questions. He asked me the regular interview questions.

The total interview time was approximately twenty-five minutes. I spent fifteen minutes answering the questions about my health condition and the other ten minutes answering the regular job interview questions. His last question was, “Do you drive?” I said, “No, but I live in El Cajon city, and not far from the company.” He said, “Well, thank you for coming to the interview, Mr. Bahjat, and we will contact you if we decide to hire you.” The good news was the interview came to an end, and the bad news was that I did not get the job.

What makes me feel bad is even after I grew up, people still treat me like a kid. Just because I’m disabled in the wheelchair, it does not mean that I have to be treated like a kid, and this experience repeats with me again and again. Hence, the challenge that I have is not only the disability, but it is also how people see the wheelchair before they see the person.


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