Volunteerism, working brings purpose to those with disabilities
Note: This story is a part of a month-long series where the Herald Democrat will be sharing stories about local individuals as a celebration of National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
Throughout the month of October, the U.S. will observe National Disability Employment Awareness Month, which highlights the accomplishments of those in the workforce with disabilities. The U.S. Department of labor estimates that about 18.52 million people with disabilities ages of 16- 64 are currently in the U.S. workforce.
For Meredith Marr, this work comes in the form of volunteerism with Texoma Medical Center, where she has given of her time for more than a decade. Currently, Marr is waiting to return to her work following the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I worked bits and pieces, but I have actually been on Social Security for the past dozen years or so,” Marr said. “However, I have been volunteering two or three days a week at TMC for that same period of time.”
Marr was born with spino bifida, a neural tube birth defect that has left her paralyzed from the waist down. For the majority of her life, Marr has used a wheelchair for mobility.
“Ironically October is also Spino Bifida Awareness Month so there is an interesting overlap there,” she said.
As a teenager, Marr worked several jobs when she was younger, including two summers with A.G. Edwards as a receptionist. After a stint away from home, Marr returned to Sherman where her parents encouraged her to volunteer.
“As I grew up a lot in hospitals, my mom thought that would probably be a good fit for me,” she said.
Since late 2009, Marr has chosen to help out at TMC and currently works under its volunteer director in an administrative assistant role.
“I kind of help her run all of the volunteer databases, whether it is the hours, contact information or the awards every year that we do,” she said.
On an average day, Marr will arrive at the hospital around 8 a.m. and work until around 3-4 p.m.
“I don’t drive so over the years I’ve used TAPS, and I do live with my parents so there have been several years where my mom or my dad would bring me to work,” she said.
Marr starts her day by going to her office and going through any emails, notes or reports that were left by her boss.
“I am able to slide up under the desk there to get access to the computer,” she said adding that no real accommodations needed to be made for her. “Really there hasn’t been a lot of changes necessarily I’ve needed to ask for.”
While she is unable to maintain a 40-hour work week, Marr said she takes pride in her work with the hospital and is thankful for the opportunities it has provided her.
“I can’t work a 40-hour work week. I have other health issues that prevent that,” she said. “But the fact that I have something that is flexible and a boss that is willing to work with me it is very encouraging.”
Despite not experiencing direct discrimination prior to volunteering, Marr said she feels some potential employers did judge her based on her disability.
“There have been times I’ve gone to an interview — and I can read body language — there were times I think people were looking more at my wheelchair than at me,” she said. “I got the impression that I wasn’t going to get this job.”
Marr said she believes that many interviewers worried that her disability would be a liability or would be difficult to accommodate.
“Until people get the chance to see us in the workplace, we aren’t going to get the chance to prove those myths wrong,” she said.