Candis Welch refuses to be placed in a box or defined by society’s limitations. At 18 months, Candis was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, a disease that robs people of physical strength by affecting the motor nerve cells in the spinal cord. This forced her to be wheelchair-bound but it did not stop Candis from making her dreams become reality.
She is an advocate for individuals living with a disability and says that “people born differently are not disabled, but differently-abled.” She uses her blog CanCan On Wheelz and social media platform to dismantle the stigma for those who live with disabilities to show they can live fulfilling lives and defy the odds. In addition to advocating and managing her blog, Candis works for the Los Angeles government and serves as an executive assistant to Issa Rae. She earned a master’s in public administration and bachelor of arts in journalism with an emphasis in Public Relations from California State University, Northridge and graduated at the top of her class.
Candis loves to travel and is making a statement by revealing that people with disabilities can travel the world too. Most recently, she went on a trip to Spain and a cruise to Cancun, Mexico where she visited St. Maarten, St. Kitts, Grand Turks and Caicos, Puerto Rico and is planning to visit Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
Through her work in the disabled community, Candis wants to change the perception of those that are disabled and/or using mobility devices. She advocates for rights to equal access in public and private spaces, transportation, and general accommodations to a group of people that deserve to live life just like the rest of the world.
We spoke with Candis and here’s what she had to say about employment for individuals who are “differently-abled.”
MD-EN: Are you open to sharing your disability that you live with?
Candis: Yes, I was born with a rare disease called Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). According to CureSMA.com, approximately 1 in 50 people is a genetic carrier for SMA. SMA hijacks people of their physical strength by affecting the motor nerve cells in the spinal cord. This eventually takes away the ability of those to walk, eat, or breathe.
MD-EN: How does your disability impact your daily life and career?
Candis: My disability heavily impacts my life; I live in a world that more times than not, forgets that I exist. I am constantly modifying my life and my medical needs to fit the world. My life includes the daily assistance of my personal care assistant, who helps me get ready in the mornings and evenings. I have a medically-customized electric wheelchair that gets me from point A – Z all while using public transportation (Uber and Lyft accessible vehicles aren’t available in Los Angeles), and modified office space at work. I also have to modify my apartment to meet my needs and this is the most important modification I make in my life; my home is my accessible haven. I learned over the years to swap out traditional door locks for a keypad, use water dispensers instead of water bottles. It’s extremely hard to open bottles when your arms strength is very weak. Removing doors to provide wider access for my wheelchair is essential to my daily life. How I live is through a modified lens and until there is full accessibility worldwide, my life will always revolve around how to feel normal in a society that doesn’t see me.
MD-EN: What employment barriers or barriers, in general, does society place on people who live with a similar disability? And how do you overcome those barriers?
Candis: I think the biggest employment barrier is the lack of education from employers to the employee. Often times, the employer has not received the proper training or understanding of hiring an individual with different needs. The employer and employee are often unaware of what reasonable accommodations are available and how to request what is needed to perform the job duties. Creating a safe space where open and non-judgemental dialogue can occur is essential. In my personal experience, a lot of the employers I’ve interacted with focused on seeing my wheelchair and assume what I am not capable of doing the job, they rarely looked at me, listened to me nor considered my experience for the position. Gaining employment is a great way to gain real independence and for a differently-abled person, it can be difficult to get past the ableism.
MD-EN: Are there any myths that you would like to dismantle when it comes to people who live with a disability and their ability to gain full-time employment?
Candis: The big myth is that we are unreliable, a risk and can’t perform. The truth is that we challenge normalcy and what makes others uncomfortable. We are fully capable of working. Yes, we may have to modify the environment or the schedule, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t capable of performing the duties. We exist, we still want the same things as able-bodied people; our packaging is just different.
MD-EN: What words of encouragement would you give to people who feel defeated by their disability and believe they will need government assistance for the rest of their lives?
Candis: If you believe that, then you are manifesting that into your life. If you are capable of finding employment, whether it be full-time or part-time, do it! Take a leap of faith and push yourself, because there is a whole world of independence waiting to greet you. It won’t be easy, there will be days and maybe months you only hear the word “no”, but you only need one “yes” to move forward. Also, don’t go in blind, do your research, educate yourself, prepare your arsenal because you will need it; and understand that you will need to shine on paper and in person. There will be a million reasons why the employer doesn’t want to hire you, the trick is to show them what they will lose by letting you go.
MD-EN: How are you able to work full-time, part-time and manage your blog? What motivates you to keep going when you get discouraged?
Candis: The real answer is…GOD. I truly lean into my relationship and faith of God. Working provides a great sense of pride and humility, it allows me opportunities that would not be afforded to me otherwise. I am proud to say that I live independently and that is a motivator in itself. I know that I was placed on this earth for a greater purpose that exceeds an established 401K or years of service with a government agency. I want to disrupt the stereotype of what disability looks and feels like. I am no longer interested in waiting for a change, I am focused on creating the change. Of course, I get discouraged, not every moment is great. I want to honor my purpose by telling my story, reach people who are going through similar struggles, and show them that you can live and thrive in life despite the multiple modifications and obstacles.
To learn more about Candis, visit her www.candiswelch.com or connect with her on social media @cancanonwheelz.