I have never let lifelong epilepsy or my intellectual disability stop me from doing the things I want to do in life. In high school, I ran track and field. At a cross-country competition in my senior year, I learned about Special Olympics and started to get involved. My sports now are Open Water Swimming, Pool Swimming and Sailing.
And for the past four years, I have worked at Perfect Sense, a software product company in Reston, Virginia, as a quality assurance and content specialist. I have my own blog called On the Record with Rose that I post once a month on the company website. I also check our clients' websites to make sure everything works, and if something does not work, I write up a ticket or try to fix the bug myself. I also publish content on websites through my company's product, Brightspot.
Of people with intellectual disabilities, 34 percent have a job. Most of those jobs are in customer service, retail, food service, and manufacturing. Only 9 percent are in office settings. Yet employing people with intellectual disabilities, like me, is important. We are like everyone else, and we can do anything that we put our hearts into. We are smart, have abilities, and are valuable in the workforce.
My intellectual disability means that I pick up things slowly. I started at Perfect Sense as an intern through a Fairfax County Public Schools program, STEP (Secondary Transition To Employment Program). I thought I was going to go to community college after high school to become a nurse. After STEP and my internship, I started to think I would love to work at a website development company.
There have been bumps along the way. At the beginning I had trouble learning how to write quality assurance tickets for website bugs. I would overreact and get upset if coworkers did not invite me to lunch. I had to learn to stop talking to people during my break because it was in the middle of their work day. But the school program and my coworkers helped me overcome these challenges.
My professional skills have gotten better over the years. I know what to say, what type of questions to ask, what to do if I get stuck, and to take a walk if I need fresh air. If I need more work, I ask my co-workers if they need help. I started to eat to lunch with everyone. I know when it's okay to go to to my manager and ask him questions.
Through my job, I have also been able to form friendships with co-workers that extend beyond the office. I have movie nights with my friends, Glynis and Ashley. My boss, Lisa, and I saw Justin Bieber in concert. I also traveled to Los Angeles with 10 coworkers to volunteer at the 2015 Special Olympics Summer World Games. We worked non-stop but were also able to enjoy nice dinners, tour the city, laugh about funny moments, and share memories.
My job has helped me increase my confidence and get to know different people. I have helped Perfect Sense change for the better, too. I do quality work that benefits the company and its partners. I have a great attitude that makes people enjoy talking to and working with me. I have set an amazing example and shown people that a person, even one with intellectual disabilities, can do anything if he or she works hard.
Every March, I organize an event at the office to celebrate Special Olympics' Spread the Word to End the Word campaign. A few days before the event I send an email to my coworkers telling a personal story about the "R" word because I often see it on Facebook. I encourage them to make a public pledge not to use this hateful word in their language by signing a banner. On the day of the event, when my co-workers sign the Spread the Word to End the Word banner, I give them a t-shirt or a bracelet with a sticker so they can show their support for me and other people with intellectual disabilities. I have been organizing this event at work for five years and have been touched by the hundreds of coworkers who have taken the pledge. This event means so much to me because "R" word is hurtful and removing it from our language shows respect.
In the future, I want to continue to do quality assurance and publishing. I also want to learn how to use software programs like Photoshop and Illustrator so I can help the graphic designers. I am learning to do my work without being stressed out or anxious. I want to feel more confident in asking people for work that I can do without relying on my manager. And, I would love to learn how to do more product work so I can help everyone at Perfect Sense when they need an extra hand.
I have learned from competing in sports that I will have my good and bad days. I can always ask for help if I need it. And, I am not afraid of challenges. In four years on the job, I have contributed to projects for Special Olympics, Jordan Spieth, Johnson & Johnson, Drive, Chip & Putt, Walmart, and Lionsgate. My company and the people that work there have helped me grow and become a professional woman. But, equally important, I have helped them understand that people with intellectual disabilities can make a valuable contribution if given the opportunity.
Workplaces around the world need more people like me.