How are you today?
For those of you who don’t know me in real life, my name is Summer. I’m 33, and I live in Alaska with my mostly-retired service dog, Radar, and his successor, Murry. I like to write but need to make it more of a habit. I love reading, but my goofy brain makes it tough. I got my Associate of Arts degree from Matanuska-Susitna College last May, and graduated from the Human Services program at Alaska Job Corps Center around the same time. I’ve got a seizure disorder, I stutter, and my brain just plain works differently than most people’s. I wear tiaras sometimes. I participate in Special Olympics, mostly in swimming and bowling, though I really, really, really want to try figure skating. I’m a founding member of the Matanuska-Susitna Valley Writers’ Alliance, and last fall I was awarded the Doris J. Dearborn Scholarship to attend the 2013 Alaska Writers Conference. Disneyland is pretty much my favorite place in the whole world, and I only know two jokes, but they’re awesome. I’m awesome, too. You should stick around and get to know me. :)
So that’s the introduction, but here’s what I wanted to talk about today. I’ve started my own business and I AM SO EXCITED ABOUT IT.
When you have a disability, a lot of times finding a job and keeping up with it is tough. There’s discrimination, and there’s also the fact that you’re probably dealing with some extra obstacles. For me, it’s a lot of things connected to my brain. I get tired faster than most people, and when I get stressed and/or tired two things happen: 1) my brain has to work a lot harder to process everything and help me figure things out, and 2) it greatly increases the likelihood of my having seizures. When I have seizures, they’re small and invisible to most people, but they goof mightily with my brain’s ability to function. They also make me really, really tired, and put a lot of stress on my brain and body. Which then circles us back to the beginning of this little cycle. See the problem?
I seem to max out being useful at work at about 15 hours a week. After that, I stop being functional. My reading level goes way down, my ability to communicate goes way down, my memory gets worse than usual, it becomes really, really tough to understand what people are saying to me, and I have a lot of difficulty figuring out how to do really basic everyday routines, like brushing my teeth and getting dressed in the morning. Furthermore, once I’ve maxed myself out, it takes me a day or two (or more) to recover. That means a lot of sick days, which no employer likes.
It’s a tough place to be, living in a society where working full time is very highly valued, and not being able to do that. For many people with disabilities it’s a huge issue. It’s hard to think well of yourself in a society that thinks less of you. It becomes even tougher when you add in the fact that people with disabilities often feel a huge amount of pressure to appear non-disabled, or as non-disabled as possible. We get pretty good at it, which means that often the people we encounter can’t see why some things might be hard for us. We are often judged to be lazy because of it, even though we’re working at 300% capacity to just keep up our façade.
I don’t speak for every person with a disability. There are tons of us who have no problem working a full-time job. But I am not one of them, and I am not the only one who struggles.
SO. Employment has been a really tough issue for me. Got it? Okay, now hold that thought.
I love buttons. Not the ones that keep your shirt closed (although I am very grateful for those, too). I mean the ones with pins on the back, the ones that have funny sayings on them, or pictures, or political slogans. I don’t know what it is about them, but they just have a little bit of a magnetic draw for me.
Almost a year ago, I stumbled across a video of a kid using a professional-grade button press to make pinback buttons. I’m pretty sure it’s the first time a YouTube video has ever changed my life. I became fascinated with the idea of making buttons. If this little boy had a business making pinback buttons, why couldn’t I?
So I did a feasibility study. (Thank you, English 212 Technical Writing.) And the more I looked at the idea, the more it seemed like a good fit for me.
Self-employment can solve several of the biggest problems I have maintaining traditional employment. Here’s why I am so excited about owning my own business:
- Enormous flexibility in scheduling. Need a nap break? Take a nap break! Need the day off to recover? Take it! I get to arrange my schedule in a way that makes the most sense, and is the healthiest, for me.
- I get to work from home most of the time. Not having to figure out transportation everyday (I can’t drive because of my seizures) takes a huge stressor away. It also means I can work a little bit at a time, and not have to go back and forth to an outside workplace in between.
- I get to be creative! Creativity is one of my particular talents. I’ve not been able to use my creativity in any of the traditional employment situations I’ve tried. It’s either not a part of the job, or I’m so busy trying to keep my head afloat that I’m not able to do any more than the bare minimum. But in having my own business, I get to choose to do something that uses one of my strengths. This is a really important point to me. Instead of fighting my weaknesses at my job, I get to show off my strengths. That’s huge!
- I will be able to supplement my income. This will take a little financial pressure off of me, and, honestly, gives me a lot of pride. I’m not sure how to explain how big this is to me. I get to share something I love with people, and not only do they like it, they’ll pay me so that they can take a piece of it home with them. That in itself just makes me glow inside. But further, when someone buys something I’ve made, they give me money, and in the world we live in that means freedom. That’s not something that has come easily to me in the last fifteen years.
- Even better: earning my own money means I have a little to pass on. I get to pass on a percentage of what I make to organizations that directly support people with disabilities. That makes me immensely happy.
So yes, I’m excited. I feel like I’m beginning a really cool new chapter in The Life of Summer. I get to create, and share, and earn my own money. And if that’s not cool, I don’t know what is.
If you’d like to keep up on my fabulous new endeavor, please go visit the Beluga Buttonworks page on Facebook, and make sure to hit “Like.” There will be a website with online ordering available soon, and it will be announced on the Facebook page first.
To those who have already spoken up in support of me and my business, lent a hand, or bought a button – thank you. I can’t wipe this silly grin off my face. :)