It's been almost three years since I worked at the Disabilities Center. Proctoring tests to disabled students was my part-time job in grad school. I am immensely grateful for the experience. I worked daytime only, on campus, and sometimes I was set in duties where I could read or write. The position helped me become a better teacher and certainly a much better person.
I was let go at the start of my final semester of school. I was devastated. My boss fought to keep me, but I was already a halftime instructor for ASU, and with Obamacare looming, the school was was paranoid about providing benefits. In a truly demeaning manner, the HR person for my graduate program wrote me saying I was being forced out of other work because I needed to focus on my studies. (After providing proof I had maintained an A average during my entire tenure at school she admitted, "Okay, it's about not giving you health care.")
I remember one of my last days at work. I was scribing for a student in a wheelchair who didn't have the use of his hands. I wrote out the short answers for him on his history exam. He coughed and asked if I could reach in his bag, get the water bottle, insert a straw, and give him a drink. "Sure," I said. I was holding the water to his mouth and thinking about the exam topics. I was remembering some stuff about Britain's empire I had forgotten since high school. (Another thing I loved about the job--insight to so many subjects!) He said, "Okay," and I put the bottle away. I had a conscious thought, "That would have felt weird two years ago." Even interviewing with my boss, a woman who was very slow to speak with, what seemed like, little control of her head, had set me on edge. I want to believe I was simply concerned in an interview scenario that I wouldn't nail it because I was having some trouble understanding her, but truthfully I had never spent an extended time with anyone much physically different than me. On that Arizona cool December day, while jotting down answers about British opium trade, the bitterness of being forced from my job melted. I felt a swell of thankfulness for the empathy education I had slowly accumulated without even knowing it.