When I was in high school, I read Flowers for Algernon. The classic 1966 science-fiction novel tells the story of menial laborer Charlie Gordon, 32, who has an IQ of 68 and is suddenly gifted with intelligence after taking part in an experiment. However, the effects of the experiment are only temporary as Charlie slowly diminishes in intellect.

Flowers for Algernon strikes me as a study on human behavior. How do we as a society treat those with mental disabilities at work and at home?

I was a fearful, suspicious man when I was discharged from the U.S. Army after spending weeks hospitalized for schizophrenia. Who would trust someone who had a mental illness? I knew I had an intellect, but I thought the disorder would hold me back.

With this mindset, I settled for part-time employment doing menial work while depending on disability benefits, my safety net, as the major source of income.

I wasn’t exactly starving or homeless, but I wasn’t happy either.

It wasn’t until I performed well at journalism that my intellect shone. By making a contribution, I felt happy.

That is what it is like for the persons with disabilities like myself. Wishing to seek a challenge, I have gotten frustrated along the way, only to find my life’s calling. Doing this on my own took years. For others, it could take much less by using federal and state public and private employment resources for people with disabilities.

  • The Ticket to Work program is a free and voluntary service of the Social Security Administration that helps individuals with disabilities get back to work and become financially independent while keeping their Medicare or Medicaid.
  • The Schedule A Hiring Authority allows for non-competitive direct hires of individuals with disabilities in federal government positions.
  • Vocational Rehabilitation services, operated by the U.S. Department of Education, assists individuals with disabilities access employment opportunities through free training, job preparation, and accommodation.
  • Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment services of the U.S. Veterans Administration helps qualified military Veterans with job assistance and placement.

People with disabilities are valuable and important members of our society. Companies are increasingly recognizing the contributions and essential roles that people with disabilities can and do fill. Work can be an important component of recovery for individuals with disabilities. There are excellent resources that can support the exploration of and transition to working.