Wesley Peterson is a 33 year old Vancity employee, car enthusiast who drag races on the weekends, a proud resident of Steveston and also happens to have a physical disability.
As part of a series on social inclusion we’re connecting with people in our communities who can share their unique perspective on the topic, because research has shown that creating dialogue with people outside of our immediate networks helps us understand each other. We sat down with Wesley to learn more about who he is, how he lives and explore his thoughts on social inclusion, what it’s like to live with his disability.
Could you share a bit about your disability?
I’m a T3 complete paraplegic. The T3 references the T3 vertebrae located in the pectoral area in the chest. I was the passenger in a motor vehicle accident when I was 18 that left me paralyzed with no feeling from the upper chest down. I cannot walk so I use a manual wheelchair for mobility. I try to live as positively as I can and show others I’m just as normal as anyone else.
What’s your daily routine like?
My morning routine takes my body almost 2 hours to complete if all goes well. Being a paraplegic, something always goes wrong. Sometimes, after getting into my car and taking my wheelchair apart, my body will throw me a curve ball and I’ll spill something on my pants or forget something I need. Then I’ll arrive at work to discover the elevator doesn’t work. It happens.
What do people assume about you, solely based on your disability?
That I must be unable to do even the simplest of things. Disability can mean so many things and no two disabilities are the same. I’m placed in the ‘health risk’ category or ‘needs special attention’ for employers and it sucks, regardless of what skills I possess.
What questions do you get asked that annoy you the most?
I hate being asked things like if I made my lunch today? Or if I work full time and how my caregivers must do a lot for me. I don’t think of myself as being disabled so why should anyone else? People can be insensitive but also curious and I’m always open to educate and spread the word, even if I’m asked in an unfriendly manner.
Does your disability affect dating?
Yes. It’s hard to beat down the stereotypes. Everyone thinks I’m looking for a caregiver. The differences always get tossed aside as soon as we start talking and they realize I’m very normal on the inside. I just come with some wheels.
Have you ever been denied a job because of your disability?
I hate to say it, but in the past, I would never include my disability on my resume or cover letter because I would never get a call back.
What surprised you the most about Vancity when you started working here?
I thought Vancity credit union was just like any other financial institution, but I was wrong. There are some incredible impact stories and the differences being made in people’s lives, are pretty amazing.
How do you find working for Vancity as a person with diverse-abilities?
I was hired because I had relevant past experience. Vancity fully supports me and my disability and I don’t think there is a job in the entire organization they wouldn’t let me apply for if I had the right skill set.
How do you feel Vancouver can be more inclusive to people with a disability like yours?
Vancouver is doing well. If I had to pick one thing, I’d say free parking for disabled persons. Parking meters are not very accessible and I have a lot of extra costs due to my disability.
How do you think our communities can become more inclusive? We’d love to hear your thoughts on Twitter.