KEEPING IT REAL: The Power of Technology at Work

Tue 21 Mar 2023

Changing What’s Possible: The Power of Technology at Work

By Katy Gaastra*, Founder of Cerebral Palsy Strong

In this piece, Katy shares how she’s navigated disability in the workplace and how assistive technology has shaped her perspective. 

Before coming to CPARF, I worked for a big creative agency, and helped build big brands in a big industrial warehouse, full of people with even bigger egos. I disclosed my disability when I was hired, but more often than not, my assistive device, the ExoSym — and why I was wearing it — would seep its way into casual small talk or come up when I’d walk into a meeting full of important clients and powerful executives.

It led to some awkward encounters but I understood their curiosity and had no problem responding to every question honestly. This was also the first time I had to navigate a relentless work environment that expected more from me than I could physically offer. When the head of our department approached me about my perceived lack of enthusiasm for the job, I didn’t have a satisfactory response. I felt I was giving it my all, but to them, it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough that I showed up early — I was still expected to stay late and be at the ready when a pitch came our way, even if it was Easter Sunday. I had to feign boundless energy and get the work done at great personal cost. Their motto (literally written on the wall) was “Good Enough Sucks.” 

In a later conversation, the same department head said that my disability was holding me back, and wondered aloud whether or not I wanted to be on their team. I was speechless… because, like most people with disabilities, I’ve spent a lifetime proving to myself and others that I am capable of so much. And suddenly, someone questioned my work ethic. How was I supposed to respond to that?

I know firsthand that technology can change the way someone works, even in indirect ways. I need my ExoSym to help me live my life. Because due to aging with CP and leading an active lifestyle, I’ve had my fair share of injuries — stress fractures in both of my feet required surgery that’s led to extreme bone pain, weakened muscles, and decreased mobility. It affects my energy levels and pain levels, but it goes beyond that. 

My ability to adapt and adopt new ways of thinking extends beyond my disability and into my mindset wherever I am. My device has helped me access more confidence and more energy than I ever thought possible. Not only can I get to the office with greater ease when I need to, but my ExoSym has helped me recognize my self-worth and acknowledge my needs. 

Disability wasn’t a part of my professional path like it is now, but this experience taught me that it’s very much a part of me and it informs how I show up to work on any given day. I’m fortunate that my colleagues at CPARF understand this and hold space for these kinds of conversations, and I encourage my peers to share their own experiences to help rid their workplaces of misconceptions about what disabled people are capable of. 

Give today to help us make technology like Katy's device accessible to more people. 

*Katy's story is part of KEEPING IT REAL — a series of personal stories that will take you deeper into the lives of people with CP. Each person makes different choices based on what works for them, and we’ll showcase that — highlighting what life is like for them on a daily basis, what they care about, and the ways CP impacts them. 

The KEEPING IT REAL blog is intended solely to raise awareness about the varied human experience with cerebral palsy and shouldn't be read or construed to contain any medical advice or medical endorsement by Cerebral Palsy Alliance Research Foundation. Only you and your doctor know what's best for you. Please consult your doctor for medical advice.

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