"Searching for a job I failed about a hundred times. You just keep going. I mean, what else are you gonna do? You gotta eat."
I met Reid at a conference where he was presenting. I remember watching his films, listening to him talk, and being in awe at the commentary he was making. I hadn’t been around people who were really interested in disability issues since college, 4 years prior, and suddenly I was in a room listening to this awesome guy present on the portrayal of disability in the media, getting to discuss the topic with other people in attendance. One thing Reid said near the end of his talk really stuck with me. He said that he really wished he had more role models like him growing up. After the conference I went home and thought about this a lot. I realized that, while I didn’t have the power to put more people with disabilities in movies or magazines, I did have a lot of interest and knowledge surrounding disability issues and success, and I knew a number of people with disabilities who would be great role models. I realized I could create a place where people could find examples of successful people like them. A place where people could have a community to talk to about how to achieve success as a person with disability. A place where people could talk about how disability issues play into their journey. And a place that people could really think of success in terms of the whole person, not just in a career, but also in their personal life, their health, and their happiness. As a result, I created this website. So Reid, all I can do is express my most sincere gratitude for you speaking that day. Thank you.
From here, I’ll let Reid take over and tell you about his life, his successes, and his journey:
Reid on his story:
“I grew up in Connecticut, first 18 years of my life. And I went to college in Washington D.C. Spent two years in D.C. after that. And then moved to Northern California for graduate school. I graduated there 2016, and I’ve been freelancing media ever since. . . . I feel fulfilled with my work right now. I think my work is my biggest accomplishment. . . . I think I have a great relationship with my family. I think that’s an accomplishment. I think I have really good friends. And I am part of different communities out here in the bay. So I really like that as well.”
Reid on the factors that contributed to his success:
“Well education. And therefore the access to capital. . . . [G]oing to college and going to grad school is a privilege that not all people have.”
“I mean, I think I pushed myself pretty hard. . . . I think academically I had high expectations of myself.”
Reid makes a really important point here, that not all people have access to the money to go to college. This can be a big barrier to people not being able to achieve their career goals, especially since more and more jobs in the U.S. are service-based and require college degrees. He was lucky enough to be born into a family with the ability to send him to college, and now he considers that one of the biggest factors to his success. What might happen if people with disabilities had more access to higher education? Would the world look a little bit different today?
Reid on the biggest barriers to his success:
“Well I guess people's perceptions you know. And I always preface this story with, I really don’t mean to brag, but I graduated summa cum laude from college, and I was unemployed for a year. . . . I always say I was working as a reporter, and I would say I wasn’t the best reporter, but I did have experience, and I did have the skills to be a competitive candidate. I think I applied to like a hundred jobs before I found a paid job. And that was a real, I was kinda politicized at that point, that was right after I made "Wheelchair Diaries," but that year of unemployment really cemented it, the political aspect of what I believed.”
I love Reid’s description here about the discrimination in the job market that he faced. He graduated summa cum laude and yet he couldn’t get a paying job for an entire year. But I also like how he took that and gained some purpose from it. He now sees that year of unemployment as the year that cemented his political beliefs in regards to disability issues. For those who have yet to watch it, his film "Wheelchair Diaries" follows him as he explores inaccessibility in Europe as the result of being denied by a school to study abroad in Italy. So after he made this movie about inaccessibility in Europe, he experienced discrimination in looking for a job. I interpret this experience as putting a fire under him to address disability issues in his work. And now, he hosts a podcast talking about disability issues and interviewing people like Judy Heumann! Sometimes experiences are not going to be fair and they’re going to suck, but this perspective of creating meaning out of negative experiences I believe is vital in becoming successful, because it gives you a very strong purpose or reason to do the work.
Reid’s advice for when you face a barrier:
"I would say that you really need to give yourself some slack. Realize how hard it is to be disabled. And accept that you might have more setbacks. But also try to consider, try to keep it in perspective and not get down on yourself."
Reid comments here on having a positive attitude about yourself, and not letting barriers or failures get to you. It’s really easy to give up once you hit a wall. However, if you start letting failures define you, it’s going to be really difficult to get up and get back in the game. An important distinction here is that when you hit a failure, you have to isolate it instead of generalizing it. After being rejected for a position, instead of saying "I suck at applying for jobs and I'll never find one," it's much more helpful to think "I didn't do this aspect well, so I'm going to fix it so I can do better on the next one." As Reid has demonstrated through an entire year of applying for jobs, if you cut yourself some slack, move on, and keep trying, you can get where you want to go.
Reid on barriers to romantic relationships:
“I think disability is one aspect of it, but I don’t think it’s the only aspect. I also think when you don’t, when you grow up, when you go through high school, when you go through college without having as many of these experiences as other people have, it kind of stunts your growth. You are not as mature as people your age, so I kind of feel that about myself, not knowing what to do. And I know everyone feels that way sometimes when they’re dating, but sometimes I really feel those lack of experiences.”
I really like Reid’s comments that having less romantic experiences growing up, he hasn’t grown as much as peers in that area. So, it’s not just social perception of disability that is now the barrier, but also his lack of experience as a result of social perception of his disability in the past. So it’s a circular problem, really. And it doesn’t just apply to romantic relationships. It could also apply to other social relationships and other areas of life as well. I want to know, has anyone else experienced this circular issue? Not just people’s perceptions as a barrier, but lack of experience as a result of people's perceptions? Please respond in the comments below.
If you wish to view Reid's videos, watch his TED talk, listen to his podcast, or get in touch with him, go to throughmylens.org.