Last year as part of a work readiness program I had the awesome opportunity to intern at an organization that has been very dear to my heart for many years. That organization is called Initiative for Women with Disabilities. A non-for profit health and wellness center that caters to the specific needs of women with disabilities in New York City. Offering services from: completely accessible OB/GYN care (some of us know how NOT accessible many OB/GYN doctor offices can be.) to adaptive activities such as Zumba and Pilates, along with an array of other amazing programs.
Since I already knew first hand how wonderful they are in serving the female disabled community, myself being one. I didn’t hesitate on selecting them when I was given the opportunity to do so; it was really a no-brainer for me. While there I was under the wing of the facilities program manager Connie Lam as her intern assistant. Through her as well as the rest of the amazing staff I learned a great deal about being in the workplace and getting on-site experience. Not to mention learning about my strengths and weaknesses when it comes to the things that I’m able to do and not able to do physically. Sometimes we can come in with an idea of what we can do but then the reality can quite different.
One instance for example: answering phone calls. That sounds like a simple task right? At least that’s what I thought. But with my limited hand mobility I learned that that wasn’t the case and I would struggle to pick up the phone fast enough. Sure I could use the speakerphone but in a medical office type of setting sometimes that’s not most ideal. So headphones were suggested as an adaptive technology that would better assist me in solving that little barrier, in turn making me more efficient. Learning little things like that were very helpful for me and it gave me a better understanding of my capabilities in the workplace as well as what to request to a future employer as a accommodation.
But apart from learning those little things (which are actually huge things really) my time at IWD was just wonderful and Connie along with the rest of the staff made it a very welcoming and enjoyable experience for me. Though I have to say, one of the highlights of my time there was definitely when I was given the opportunity to put together a workshop for the Empowerment Group Program…. What’s the Empowerment Group you ask? Well, the Empowerment Group is a program with young women with various physical disabilities who come together once a week to connect with their peers and as the name states, empower one another. They do this through group discussion as well as recreational and wellness activities.
With the programs director approval along with her guidance I came up with a three-part workshop titled the Do’s and Don’ts of Fashion in the Workplace. It was a perfect topic to cover since throughout this particular season of Empowerment our group discussions mainly centered around the ladies sharing their various experiences in the job search as well as resume and interview skills building workshops. So you could say that this little workshop was like the cherry on top to wrap up that season of the empowerment group.
As I mentioned, the workshop was broken down in three parts. On week one we did a PowerPoint presentation listing what to wear and what to avoid in the workplace as well as for a job interview. We explained what is business casual and business formal and also talked about what kind of accessories and makeup looks are appropriate and those that are not appropriate. Along with that we showed the ladies visual aids of what those looks looked like and I made it a point to mainly use models in wheelchairs. I wanted the ladies to in a way see themselves in the pictures which though simple, it can be very empowering. Throughout the presentation rather than just having myself and Connie talk slide after slide we engaged the ladies in and it was lots of fun and very well received by the participants.
On week two we focused more on my favorite area which was makeup application. Since many of the ladies weren’t familiar with applying makeup I didn’t want to intimidate them by having them do their makeup on that same day. Instead, with me guiding them through step by step I had them practice on face charts with actual makeup products. This part was very fun and not to mention funny since some of the ladies mentioned that it felt almost like they were drawing in a coloring book.
Finally, on week three we did the final (and my most favorite) part of the workshop which was makeup application. Seriously, I was so looking forward to this day that to say I was excited about it, it would’ve have been an understatement. No joke.
So after the ladies were all set to go we did an overview of what we had done the previous week as a little refresher in case they had forgotten some of the steps. Once we went through them it was then time to play with some makeup!
Guiding the ladies step-by-step through the application process I used myself as a visual example on how I apply my own makeup. By watching me and mimicking my steps it gave them a better understanding on how to apply makeup on themselves also giving them the flexibility to adapt it to their own abilities. Overall all the participant did absolutely amazing and I was super proud of them. They seriously just blew me away. But what brought me most joy was seeing them react so proudly about the makeup look they had just created on their own. I mean, these young women are just beautiful in and out, with and without makeup but seeing them explore their femininity and beauty in this way was just priceless to me.
Now that I am currently living in Florida I have to say that I really miss this place. I miss all the staff members, the participants as well as supportive and helpful spirit of IWD. My time as an intern there was absolutely phenomenal and an experience I won’t soon forget. Forever grateful for the opportunity and I look forward to the day that I get to go back to my IWD family!
If you are a woman with a physical disability in New York City ( all five boroughs as well as Long Island) area don’t hesitate to give them a ring. Trust me, you’ll be happy you did. in
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