We sat down with Michael Best to chat about his journey from Janitor to Janitorial Trainer at Relay Resources and how he sees the importance of disability advocacy.
TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR JOB
I started in the training program in November, 2011. After that, I began as a Janitor at the Multnomah County Courthouse and the Police Training Facility, then became a Job Coach, and am now a Trainer for Janitorial.
The foundation of my work comes from my janitorial skill set that I learned over the years, most importantly learning how to adapt the skills to my own abilities. I’ve applied my own approach and learning to help others adapt to their own unique situation.
WHAT OBSTACLES, INCLUDING DISABILITY-RELATED CHALLENGES, HAVE YOU OVERCOME TO SUCCEED IN THIS POSITION?
For being a person with only one hand, it takes more time to do many things, especially when you’re learning them. It helps to have a concise routine and cut out extra time wasted on thinking about things. I recommend becoming a professional at the technique and stick to it!
WHAT ABOUT YOUR DISABILITY CAN MAKE IT DIFFICULT FOR YOU TO FIND EMPLOYMENT?
When you’re going out to mainstream places – like McDonalds or Fred Meyer - they all want to interview you. It felt like when they met me in person, the visual of my severe disability made them think that I wouldn’t give them the efficiency like someone else would. There seemed to always be one “token” disabled person at each company and if they already have that one, they figured they didn’t need me. That’s how it felt. As soon as they get one look at you they decide whether you can do the job. But I didn’t get that here at Relay. Your skill set and determination can take you where you want to go. People are willing to help you get where you want to be, wherever that is. Relay being willing to accommodate is important, and they will keep trying to help you be successful.
TELL US ABOUT A TIME THAT YOU FELT PROUD OR SUCCESSFUL AT YOUR JOB
My job is about helping others, so that makes me proud every day. But most of all, I’ve been proud of moving from Janitor to Job Coach to Trainer. I can be an example to show that if you want it, it’s there for you.
HOW DOES THIS JOB COMPARE TO PREVIOUS JOBS?
When I started at Relay, there was a certain amount of freedom. If I did the job well, I would keep the job and I would have a chance for other opportunities. Other jobs, for example, required me to wear a prosthetic, but it didn’t feel right. I could be myself here at Relay and could make my own adaptations.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT YOUR WORK ENVIRONMENT?
I really liked working at the Police Training Facility. So many people there took me under their wing. You could talk to the officers about things and hear their perspective.
Now, working at Relay's main campus, I enjoy being allowed to grow and make mistakes, and to round out my skill set – not just janitorial skills. I’m learning more on the computer and have been invited to work on special projects like the Accommodations Committee. I enjoy having the opportunity to contribute to how things are going to be shaped here going forward.
WHAT DO YOU WISH OTHERS UNDERSTOOD ABOUT PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES?
I wish people would understand that it takes a lot of extra effort to accomplish some of the same things. Michael J. Fox, for example – it takes him forever to brush his teeth and tie his shoes. Some people can just bend over and tie their shoes. I have to get on the floor and get in a certain position to do that. It takes time and planning and effort.
WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST EMPLOYMENT CONCERN OR CHALLENGE?
My biggest challenge is how I can help teach others critical thinking skills to help them be successful in their jobs. Depending on what kind of barrier they might have, they will encounter a variety of skills they will have to adapt. We’re not only working on janitorial skills, but life skills in problem solving. We practice tips and tricks, then get to watch our trainees grow week-to-week in becoming a little more comfortable in their tasks.
WHAT ARE YOUR LONG-TERM PROFESSIONAL GOALS?
I want a job where I can wear my own shirt – not a uniform. All of my opportunities have come from Relay, so I’m a lifer. I’m going to be here as long as Relay will have me. So, wherever Relay will take me, that’s where I’m going.
YOU ARE PARTICIPATING IN THE SOURCEAMERICA GRASSROOTS ADVOCACY CONFERENCE. WHAT ARE SOME LASTING IMPRESSIONS YOU HOPE TO MAKE ON THE REPRESENTATIVES THAT YOU MEET IN WASHINGTON, D.C.?
I want them to walk away remembering that I’m capable and worthy of opportunity. There’s a fear that someone with a disability can’t accomplish something, but you don’t know what someone can accomplish until they get the chance to show you. At Relay, we get that chance. It’s important to support programs that allow that growth to happen. We need our representatives to remember that.