'My Disability Made Employers Doubt Me. Here's How I Proved Them Wrong'

My name is Darrylin, people call me "Dee" for short, and even though you might not be able to tell just by looking at me, I have a disability.

I have diabetes, which has resulted in neuropathy: a dysfunction of the peripheral nerves, giving me pain in my feet and making it difficult to walk quickly or stand for long periods of time. To top it off, I have severe arthritis, and I also struggle with reading and counting.

But this is not meant to be a sob story.

Growing up was definitely a journey for me. I lost my stepdad when I was young, which left me with the burden of helping to provide financially for our family. But I enjoyed my school years for the most part. Despite my disability, I never felt much different than everyone else around me, and I'm thankful for that, because kids can be ruthless. During my junior and senior years of high school, I got to go to the local career center and learn hands-on, applied skills in auto service. Instead of just sitting at a desk all day, I loved learning how to change oil and detail cars. I remember on my first day there, I looked around and then asked my teacher, "Am I the only chick here?" It felt empowering being the only female in my entire class.

But then, I graduated high school and was left with the question of, "Now what?" I knew I had to start working to help support my mom, but I didn't have any idea of what I wanted to do, and I didn't want to make a career out of working in the auto industry. Suddenly, I was left to fend for myself without the structure of high school and teachers to help guide me. I went through the Bureau of Vocational Habilitation for assistance in getting my driver's license and searching for a job. I am so thankful that I got my license, but finding a job was still a struggle.

In 2012, I settled, instead, on a temporary, summer job on the janitorial staff at a local community college. It helped for the time being, but it wasn't sustainable, or what I actually wanted to be doing. Summer came and went, and I realized it was time for me to find a more permanent job.

I decided to focus on the food service industry because I had always enjoyed making food for my family. I applied for restaurants all over town that were hiring and went through interview after interview. But, I kept hearing the same response as they turned me away: "Sorry, we're just not looking to add to our team right now." It made no sense, and I wondered if there was something wrong with me.

Eventually, I landed a job at a grocery store as a bagger. I enjoyed it for quite a while; bringing home regular paychecks, developing skills in sorting and interacting with customers filled me with purpose, even though it was difficult for me to stand for so long without any significant breaks.

Darrylin ("Dee") Humphrey at work in Ohio
After six years of bagging groceries, Darrylin ("Dee") Humphrey says her restaurant job has given her new skills and purpose. Darrylin "Dee" Humphrey

After a few years, I decided that I wanted to work the cash register in the checkout lines. Sadly, due to my struggle with counting and reading, my employer told me all I was allowed to do was bag. And for six years, I did just that, despite burnout and the relentless desire to do more.

After I lost my mom in 2013— two parent figures gone before I even turned 20—I struggled even more with finding meaning in my life, but I knew I needed to move on.

While I was still working at the grocery store, one of my friends mentioned a local organization that provides employment to people in the community with disabilities. I found out that The Abilities Connection (TAC) was opening a salad, wrap, and smoothie restaurant downtown, and my family encouraged me to apply, knowing that I was good at making salads. After I got connected to the organization, I applied for the restaurant position and landed the job.

Since January of 2020, I've worked at that restaurant, Fresh Abilities, and I love it. At my last job, I wasn't allowed to work the register or take a break longer than 15 minutes but now, working the register is one of my main tasks, and I get to rest my feet more often during down times. When I started working here I received extensive training and, thankfully, our register is designed to be easy to read and use. Other employees now come to me with questions about the register or about what ingredients go into which salads!

Darrylin ("Dee") Humphrey at work in Ohio
Darrylin ("Dee") Humphrey at work at Fresh Abilities restaurant in Ohio. Darrylin "Dee" Humphrey

I have my own life now, and it's a better life. I love my job and the work I get to do every day. I love that I'm no longer the one needing help but that I am the one helping train others. That feels so good and fills me with a purpose I never felt I had before.

I live with my grandma and we help take care of each other, but some day in the future, I plan to live independently. I would have never said that just a few years ago. And, although my disability made it difficult to land a job in the past, I now know that I am capable of finding fulfillment and success in my career and in life.

My name is Darrylin, and I am so much more than my disability. I am breaking barriers.

Darrylin ("Dee") Humphrey is an employee at Fresh Abilities and a life-long resident of Springfield, Ohio. Every day, she's making customers smile as she takes their orders and prepares for them the most delicious salads, wraps, and smoothies.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.