GUEST COLUMN — Look at the person, not the disability

By Peter Ripley
For Peninsula Daily News

AS WE COMMEMORATE National Disability Employment Awareness Month this month, we need to reflect on far we've come, and still need go, to overcome barriers to employment for the disabled.

My story is about how I overcame adversity, the challenges I was born with — and the challenges which were placed on me by others because of underestimation and ignorance of not knowing how to treat someone with a disability in regard to employment.

For me, it all starts and ends with a positive attitude, and my personal belief in a higher being — God.

For me, without belief in something better in the hereafter, life would be even harder than it already is, and I've learned to forgive people's underestimation of my abilities as a worker as well as other unfair aspects of life.

My employment experiences started in high school, and I want to thank the state Department of Social and Heath Services' Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, which assisted me in getting into many jobs.

I worked one summer at the Coast Guard base on Ediz Hook, helping to track helicopter parts and doing other office work.

Another summer I worked as a telephone operator.

For a year, I was a greeter at the Safeway on Lincoln Street in Port Angeles.

While a senior at Port Angeles High School and after I went on to college, I worked as a janitor.

I cleaned desks, chairs, bathrooms and got on the floor to remove carpet stains.

At all of those jobs, my employers no doubt had initial doubts about my abilities.

But because of my faith, and sheer determination on my part to prove I could do the tasks they wanted me to do, any doubts quickly dissipated.

I've also appreciated the accommodations my employers made so I could get the job done.

For example, when I was a janitor, my employer made a little cart so I could tow my cleaning supplies behind my wheelchair.

I used the cart again when I worked at Olympic Medical Center (it was then known only as Olympic Memorial Hospital) for five years, selling newspapers and selling and delivering flowers to patients and staff.

(I still have that little cart. I use it at my apartment house to haul my dirty clothes down to the laundry room.)

I've enjoyed being my own boss.

After working at the hospital, I spent the next five years running a newsstand at The Landing mall, selling newspapers, magazines and sundries.

For about 12 years, I operated my own online newspaper, The Port Angeles Journal.

It had subscribers and paid advertising.

I covered city, county and port government meetings and wrote about local politics.

In 2003, I made the first of four unsuccessful runs to get elected to the Port Angeles City Council.

I still watch the political scene closely — local, state and national — and I like to make observations and comments about it in letters to the editor and on Facebook.

Always look at the person, not the disability — and never underestimate a person's abilities simply because they have a disability.

With the economy at a downturn, and jobs hard to find, can we afford to underestimate people?

This is a "Point of View" guest opinion column written for the Peninsula Daily News. Peter Ripley, 52, has arthrogryposis, a congenital joint disorder that makes him unable to walk.

He is on the Clallam County Developmental Disabilities Committee, Clallam County Disability Voter Access Board and is a past member of the state Governor's Committee for Disability Issues and Employment.

He gets around Port Angeles on a small, six-wheeled battery-powered vehicle.

He's focused these days on buying and selling collectables and antiques, which he usually does via the Internet, and operating rummage sales.

Contact him at

Last modified: October 09. 2012 6:39PM
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