Paving a New Path

Charity Harris

My name is Charity Harris, and I live with multiple life-changing diseases. I was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and moved to Los Angeles when I was seven years old. Shortly after moving, I was diagnosed with Charcot Marie-Tooth Disease, and I have type 3, known as Dejerine-Sottas. At that time, doctors were amazed I was still able to walk and told my parents to prepare for me to use a wheelchair soon. Little did the doctors know, that was not happening…

I grew up like any other child; rode my bike, went swimming with friends, Disneyland with the family, walked the dog, and any other normal activities any child would do. When I entered high school, I also did what any teen did, looked for my first job. I applied to multiple local places around my neighborhood; some pet stores, quite a few clothing stores, and office supply stores, but each one was a no.

I was young and think I assumed I didn’t get the jobs because I had no prior work experience. It wasn’t until after I graduated from the university and started looking for jobs again that I discovered the real reason. I attended California Polytechnic University, Pomona, and earned my Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Graphic Design and a minor in Marketing Management. Unfortunately, at the end of my first semester at Cal Poly, I experienced my first shock of trigeminal neuralgia. It was debilitating and quite a nuisance for a college student, but during my last semester at the university, I had finally received a diagnosis and chose to undergo surgery and had a Microvascular Decompression performed on the right side of my brain. I have bilateral TN, but it has been a blessing that my left side has been in remission for many years, and I currently live pain-free from TN.

Two weeks after I had surgery, I started a marketing internship that I finally landed and had two days to celebrate before quickly scheduling the surgery. Nothing was going to stop me from the opportunity to work. I was ready to work! I never told the company that I just had surgery for fear that they would change their minds. I loved the four months I spent as an intern, and I was surprised when I received an exceptional letter of recommendation that I couldn’t wait to use. I was ecstatic when I graduated, thinking this was it, I was finally going to get a job, I just had surgery, I just completed an awesome internship, and I was ready for my career to start. Until it didn’t.

For two years, I applied to over 100 jobs, went on over 30 interviews. Some interviews were by phone, but many were in person. I never indicated that I was in a wheelchair. By this time, I had become fully reliant on needing a wheelchair after graduating high school. Many employers were impressed by my resume, so I thought for sure when I show them my portfolio in person, they’ll have to hire me. I went all out on my portfolio, had it custom-made acrylic, and printed high quality with my designs. But there was the same surprised look on their faces when they saw me.

I received great remarks about my work and how qualified I was and whatnot, but I was never officially offered a contract to sign and join a company, and I believe it was due to using a wheelchair. There is an unspoken and unfair bias towards individuals who are disabled, and although there are laws to protect against discrimination, it still happens. It’s not fair, and something absolutely needs to be done to change the bias.

In 2018 I received my certification as an ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) Coordinator and decided I wanted to bring a change in some way to how employers hire fully trained and qualified individuals. Just because someone may have mobility limitations, it doesn’t mean they will not be able to accurately get the job done when they have the qualifications and the desire to work. Everyone should be given the same and fair opportunities when employers hire. I have been to many places, and never have I seen a wheelchair user employed in a store, a theater, a restaurant, or anywhere else, and that should change, a change I hope to focus on shortly. After many years of unsuccessful networking and interviews, I decided to create my own job and started my own business.

In 2019, I started Purple Diamond Press, LLC, and published my first children’s book. I wrote, “What If We Were All the Same!”, a children’s book about diversity and inclusion. I wanted to write a fun story that embraces equality. Growing up, I learned I’m going to face many battles as someone born with a life-changing disability, but I never allowed it to prevent me from doing what I wanted. I’ve faced many people who doubted me and told me I could not do something, but I live my life not to prove to anyone they were wrong about me, but I live my life to prove to myself how strong I know I can be.

When I had my first sting of trigeminal neuralgia, I did not see a light on my dark days, but thankfully I was mentally prepared to keep moving forward. To date, I’ve written eight children’s books, and I focus on embracing differences and acceptance. I write for children and hope my collection of C.M. Harris Books encourages readers to treat people who rely on mobility aides the same as anyone else. Our differences are good, and everyone is different in one way or another, and we should all be accepted. My latest story is in memoriam to my service dog of ten years, Gareth. Gareth was with me and encouraged me as I battled through my job hunt. “Gareth Gets a Job” will be available on December 21st. Today, I am very grateful for the job I have but I hope to help others who have faced similar employment experiences.

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