George Pope: “Hiring disabled people is an excellent choice”

Photo by George Pope

Years, days, minutes… when it comes to the important moments which build our lives, the scales of time involved often vary. In a matter of seconds on a morning in January 1990, George Pope’s life changed forever. While getting dressed to go to work, a violent headache suddenly knocked him out. Victim of a cerebral aneurysm, he was in a coma for two and a half days before learning that he would remain paralyzed for the rest of his life.

This did not prevent him from continuing to fight to find his place in a society where discrimination against disabled people still exists. At 45 years old, he now spends his time between his family, job and volunteer work – a beautiful revenge on fate and a path on which he now looks back.

Once your diagnosis was known, what was your first reaction?

The doctor told me I would be paralyzed, but that the emergency brain surgery saved my life. When he told me I would need to find a new career path (not labour-based) I immediately thought, “Great! No more outdoor work!” Later I became more aware of the seriousness of my situation and simply commanded myself to do the best I could and not focus only on the negative.

What is the nature of your disability?

I am partially paralyzed on my left side. My leg is weak. As for my arm and my hand, they are no longer functional.

How did you proceed to find a job?

I had a job counselor at Neil Squire Foundation, which assists disabled people. He saw a classified ad in a local trade publication and he recognized that I was qualified for this position. Furthermore, the job description matched my primary goal of helping people.

What do you do at work? Do you have special conditions?

My job, in a travel insurance medical call centre, involves using the telephone and internet to receive and respond to medical assistance requests from our clients. As such, it was already, without modifications, a perfect position for me, as I can work well even though I am in a wheelchair. I’ve also had a long interest in and aptitude for computer work. I have a special keyboard available to allow me to type one-handed, but with our custom-made online information database case management software, I find I do not need it.

Before that, did you face discrimination when searching for work?

I had spent about 14 years in a largely unsuccessful job search until my current employer was willing to accept me and give me a fair opportunity. Discrimination does exist, sadly. I have had several potential employers who said right to my face, “We do not hire wheelchairs!” Most are far more discreet but not necessarily less biased or afraid to hire a disabled person.

If you had a message to pass to employers in general, what would it be?

Always remember that many disabled people are a better option to hire, because we have experience overcoming difficulties and we tend to exert a greater effort to succeed.

In view of your day to day life, what is your opinion of help from the public and the structures made available for disabled people?

I receive PWD (Person with a Disability) benefits from the provincial government which serve to subsidize my wages, making it possible for me to support my wife and children. The financial assistance is minimal, but definitely better than if there were none. Of immeasurable value is the provision of assistance for medical & equipment costs beyond the standard levels of our healthcare system.