INTERVIEW Kyle Romano

  • Tell me a bit about yourself, what you enjoy doing in your free time, and your disability.

I’m a quad amputee, as a result of bacterial meningitis. When I was about a year old, I contacted it. Because my limbs are so short, I use a power wheelchair with a seat elevator. My chair is fairly unique, because the seat raises, and also lowers to the floor. Lowering my seat allows me to reach desks, which has been extremely important for school and work. Like most people, in my free time, I enjoy hanging out with friends. I love to write, which is why I manage Custom Mobility’s blog and write blog posts for Sunrise Medical. In the near future, I’ll also be starting a blog, which will feature stories and teaching moments from my life. I love video games, and have been playing them since I was three. I’m a competitive Super Smash Bros. Ultimate player, and am sponsored by an organization called Gamers on The Edge. I’ve also done some volunteer work for them, which had included media appearances.

  • What do you do for a living?

I work as a team member of Custom Mobility’s Marketing Team. As I mentioned, I manage the company’s blog, which means that I write content, edit the content of other writers, and style posts with pictures and such. I’m also involved in a variety of speaking events, both at Custom and other venues, where I speak about Custom Mobility, my life, and the impact that Complex Rehab. Technology has had on me. I’ve recently started to learn photo editing, which has definitely helped to bolsted the content on Custom Mobility’s social media streams.

  • Why did you choose that job or career?

That’s actually a difficult question to answer, simply because I didn’t intend to end up at Custom Mobility. I knew that I wanted to make a difference in the lives of people with disabilities. At the time, a friend and I were unemployed. Bruce, Custom Mobility’s owner and a long-time friend, invited us to the St. Pete Grand Prix. There, we were invited to join the Custom Mobility team, and help with the development of assistive technology. Since then, my friend has moved onto other, philanthropic endeavors. That changed the scope of my role at Custom. After taking a Marketing course, offered by Sunrise Medical, we decided that a Marketing position was an appropriate transition for me. Additionally, my Master’s in Communication, and specialization in disability, further complimented my new role.

  • What do you love about your job and what do you find difficult?

I love the opportunity to be involved and engaged with the disability community. After studying disability in academia, I didn’t want to stay to get my PhD. I felt that university politics would hinder my ability to be involved with the community, in the way that I wanted. That was a goal that I was unwilling to compromise with. I don’t really consider myself as working “for” Custom Mobility; instead, I work with the organization in meaningful ways, which help to reverse negative stereotypes about people with disabilities. The ability to do that, while being involved with a number of different projects, has really fostered my love for the company. The staff is also very empathetic, in relation to any limitations that I have, related to my disability. It also doesn’t hurt that I work at a wheelchair/accessible vehicle repair shop. I’ve taken advantage of that a number of times. And in terms of what has been difficult… I’d have to say the transition from unemployment to having a job. Nothing about my job has seemed difficult, per say. Learning new skills is always challenging, but transitioning into employment was difficult. It was tough to get into that mindset, but was something that eventually went away. Resources were available to me through Voc. Rehab and such, but experience was really the only thing that helped.

  • What’s your favourite memory of your career so far? What are you most proud of?

It’s honestly hard to narrow it down. Currently, I’m most proud of developing an Instagram campaign called #wheeliegoodlife. The point is to show how people with disabilities utilize their mobility equipment, and how that allows them to do the things that they love. Developing an Instagram profile has been slow-going, but it’s starting to pick up steam. As a company, Custom Mobility hadn’t utilized social media that much, because the company didn’t want to seem as if they were bragging or taking advantage of their clients. But we do meaningful work, which deserves to be showcased. If anything, our work should serve as a platform for people with disabilities, and as a means of inspiring us to go after our dreams. Blogging is an extension of that.

  • Did you go to college? Where did you go?

Yes, I received my Bachelor’s and Master’s in Communication from USF. As a Graduate student, I specialized in disability, specifically in storytelling and media representation of people with disabilities.

  • What kinds of accommodations did your college give you, both in and out of class?

In college, I received double-time on tests, and was provided a note taker from the department of Students with Disabilities Services. As a Grad. Student, my accommodations were the same. Additionally, as a Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA), I had assistance from other GTA’s and staff, in case I needed assistance with things like carrying papers, transitioning through PowerPoint slides, handing out papers, etc. The department also purchased a key extender for me, so that I could independently lock and unlock my office.

  • What was job hunting like? Do you think your disability had any affect on your job hunt?

Actually, I didn’t job hunt. I was extremely lucky, because Custom Mobility wanted to employ me. Unfortunately, I can’t speak about job hunting with a disability. I do know that Voc. Rehab tried to help with that. The options that they presented weren’t what I was looking for. The only comment that I can make, is to be mindful of the environment that you’re interviewing for. If your interviewer seems to be unaccommodating, or the company as a whole, then the company isn’t a good fit. I imagine that this problem isn’t as prevalent as it used to be, but am sure that it still exists. Be very mindful of the company’s approach to inclusiveness, which can include the use of appropriate language, both verbal and non-verbal, as well as the general accessibility surrounding the workplace.

  • What accommodations does your workplace provide?

Again, I’m very lucky to work at Custom Mobility. My boss and the staff have been extremely accommodating. I’m lucky, in the sense that I don’t require an extensive amount of accommodation. That’s not to shame anybody that does. Your employer should always make reasonable accommodations for you, no matter your limitations. I needed a keyboard easel so that I can type, and a trackball for a mouse. Other than that, my co-workers help me prepare my lunch, and are always willing to help, should I need to carry something or drop something. In meetings, if I need to, my co-workers will also assist me with note taking.

  • What are some things that make your job difficult, in relation to your disability?

Honestly, nothing. If my wheelchair or van break, that can certainly prevent me from making it into work; however, Custom Mobility can remedy both of those problems for me. Again, I’m very lucky because Custom Mobility is extremely accommodating.

  • What advice would you give to someone with a disability who wants to go into your field?

Mostly, I’d say that you have to put yourself out there. What I’ve learned, is that success largely comes from networking, and networking is mostly being at the right place, at the right time. Growing up as a quad-amputee, I used to be very timid about my limitations. I didn’t want people to see me as weak or incapable. Largely, those feelings are unfounded, and were additional limitations that I was imposing on myself. Lack of representation of people with disabilities has caused a lot of us to adopt that narrative, whether or not we believe it to be true. I would say that the most important advice that I could give, is to be realistic. If you have a disability, you have limitations. Unfortunately, that’s the nature of it. There are tasks that you will either need assistance to accomplish, whether that be from an assistive device or a person. Don’t focus on “overcoming” your disability; instead, you need to embrace it. Denying that you have limitations can be extremely detrimental, because it can lead you to have unrealistic expectations of yourself and of disability, as a whole. That can actually be dangerous, because it can encourage you to challenge yourself in ways that might be risky, harmful, or unhealthy. Conclusively, I’d advise you to embrace who you are, and be proud of your disability. It makes you unique, and has the power to either empower or limit you.

INTERVIEW Kyle Romano

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