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In this essay, a Retirement Expert with a hearing loss disability laments the general public's misconceptions towards government workers but shares her pride in making a positive difference in people's lives.


When I was about ready to graduate from college, I met a recruiter for the Social Security Administration on my college campus. We talked at a job fair and I followed up with her afterward. I was quite curious about the work, as it was a career I had never considered. After graduation, I was hired exactly one week later. I've been with my agency for 13 years and am currently working as a technical expert in Retirement, Disability, and Survivor programs.

My own disability has never been a concern with my job, but it does cause some minor headaches occasionally. I have a bilateral, moderately-severe sensorineural hearing loss. I need minor accommodations like closed captioning on televised or video training programs, a telephone with an amplified handset, and some solution that doesn't involve listening to conference calls on a speaker phone. Sometimes when I ask for reasonable accommodation, I feel like I am being a pain to my superiors. As long as I make my needs known, however, they are always met.

My hearing loss is typically invisible to most people who don't know me well. As a result, I can't say that I am discriminated against often. Sometimes people think I am rude because I don't answer them when they speak to me, not realizing that I couldn't hear them. Other times people will think that I am not smart because I can't hear what they are saying. They assume that I don't understand, not that I can't hear.

One of the biggest misconceptions about government workers is that we are all lazy and don't work hard. This is absolutely not true for many of us. Me, and many of my colleagues, will go to bed at night worrying about how to fix a problem for a client or how we can better help someone. If you bring me a problem, I will find a solution no matter how many hoops I have to jump through to get it.

It's hard to keep up with what is happening on the Hill and how those law changes translate into policy changes that I have to keep up with on a daily basis. For every rule there are exceptions to keep track of, it can be tough at times. Knowing how to look things up in our extensive policy guide is important and very helpful.

I have moved "up the ladder" very quickly because I work extremely hard. Behind my desk, I have a wall full of certificates and accolades from a job well done. I have solved problems at a national level that affected multiple government agencies. There is really no limit to what you can do if you work hard enough at it, and I am living proof of this.

One day when I was getting ready to go to lunch, a client came in because he had just been released from prison. I was irritated that I had to help him, but wasn't so rude to make him wait until I got back from lunch. When he sat down at my desk, I realized he was a very sick man. He was dying from AIDS and was terrified. Before he left, I made sure to give him every resource he might need. For the next year, I saw this man in random places like the grocery store or department store. I saw him gradually get sicker and sicker. One day, I got the alert that he died. I will never forget him for teaching me humility. I learned the hard way to never make assumptions about other people.

Every single day, my heart is moved. Sometimes it's reaching across the desk to a person who was just diagnosed with a terminal illness and reassuring them that their approval for benefits is one less worry and that they can focus on other concerns. The most unusual situation that ever happened to me was one day a woman came into my office and asked to speak with me. She told me that she was a client's widow. I was embarrassed because I didn't recognize the name of her husband who died. She had found my business card attached to a note from her husband that read "if I don't make it, call this lady, she will know what to do". When she showed me his obituary which contained a black and white photo, I remembered vividly! This man had been fighting cancer and worked all the way through his treatment. He wanted to make sure his wife would be eligible for benefits when he died, so he came to visit me every few months for almost two years. I told her about his visits, she had no idea. This experience was the first time I realized that I can make a huge difference in someone's life in a way I never expected.

My job is stressful in that there's always a lot of work and people needing my help, and not nearly enough time to do it all. Sometimes people get angry and yell, curse, or throw things. I have to remember that they are in a position of needing my help and sometimes their fear makes them act badly. Despite this job stress, I believe I am well compensated for my work. People in my position range from a GS-7 through GS-12 depending on level of experience and specific job duties. My vacation and sick leave package is plentiful. The only complaint I have about my pay and benefits is that I wish we had maternity leave and short term disability options available to us.

I am proud of my career because of the difference I can make in people's lives. While my plan had been to follow in the footsteps of other family members and make a career out of military service, my disability made that impossible. I feel like I am providing a valuable service to the American public in the best way that I can.