September 20, 2016
“Disability is what you make of it.”

Guest blog: Robin Jenks Vanderlip, BA, MCBIET, MG, Rising Leadership Academy participant and George Washington University Fellow, Rehabilitation Counseling and Brain Injury Education

Robin Jenks Vanderlip photoThis is my first time at the USBLN Conference. I’ve seen a lot of things in my life and have had a lot of experiences. Being in the room with 50 plus people that have different disabilities is both empowering and humbling.

It is empowering because you see the successes that other people have. You observe their achievements, admire their strengths to overcome the obstacles in their lives. While at the same time humbling because when you measure yourself against someone else, you may even feel embarrassed or that your disability is not as severe someone else’s.

Disability is what you make of it. How you use it, how you apply it in your everyday life. A conversation came up about how do you talk to people about your disability or your willingness to disclose what it is, or what it is not.

My own personal feeling is, particularly in the situation where your demonstrating your character, is to tell your story in a way that inspires others. This allows people, particularly employers, see that you are able to overcome adversity while changing the situation, which may have negatively impacted you, and flipping it into something positive.

My story: In May 2007 I fell and hit my head while at a work event. I had a traumatic brain injury, stroke and lost my ability to speak. I am a single mom with two kids and the company I worked for denied responsibility. The only one I had to take care of me, was me.

I gardened for a hobby and therapy, my friends would come over to visit and we would go into my garden to fix vegetables. All my friends wanted me to make them gardens. I decided there was a demand for homegrown vegetables that were organic and started a custom installed gardening business. I used the skills and the resources that were available to me to create a very successful business.

I earned my real estate license for investing and started to do large gardens and subdivisions for builders. Those relationships I created naturally connected me to develop a fabulous real estate career while staying home and caring for my kids. My career was flexible and also allowed me to go to graduate school obtaining a degree in rehabilitation counseling and a postmaster certificate in brain injury education and family transition.

My story demonstrates how I was able to adjust my attitude to overcome what could have been a life-changing event for the negative. I was able to capitalize on my situation and turn what was a terrible, traumatic experience into a story of empowerment, which I demonstrate to others on a daily basis.

Having a disability is what you make of it. The resources and networking exposure that I’m receiving at the USBLN Conference are outstanding. The kindness and support that everyone offers is amazing! The room is filled with the energy of success. Moreover, success for you, the individual. The you that is looking to better yourself and continue to grow in your professional career. There are corporations and professionals that have one mission, and that is to help you find success.

When I committed to coming to the program I had no idea the energy and the value that this experience would bring to my life. Thank you for giving me of the opportunity to be here!

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