FSACentral is proud to once again celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month by featuring people with disabilities who are out in the workforce.
Chris Fern sustained a non-duty related spinal cord injury in October 2017 but continues to be a vital part of the team at the Pasco County Sherriff’s Office.
Name: Christopher Fern
Hometown: Fort Lauderdale
Employer: Pasco County Sheriff’s Office
Position: Intelligence Analyst
Length of time at current job: Five years
What is the best advice or encouragement you’d give to a fellow self-advocate about accessing or keeping employment?
To acknowledge that due to your disability things may be difficult but not impossible. "Adapt, Improvise, and Overcome" is a mantra used in law enforcement but I think is applicable to any disabled person attempting to seek and/or maintain employment. I have had challenges returning back to work post-accident but I am still an extremely productive member of my agency and have accepted that I contribute in a different way than before.
What advice would you give employers about hiring a person with a disability?
To look past whatever disability may be in front of them and see the person as a whole. People with disabilities can still contribute in a great way and, often, as a side effect of their work, people find admiration and motivation in watching us succeed as we display confidence in whatever task is before us.
What’s the most significant employment-related challenge you face as a person with a disability?
For me, personally, it's just the difference between being a sworn member of law enforcement as opposed to a civilian member. Both have their pros and cons but I always loved my work before my accident and as I cannot perform some of the physical tasks as before I can no longer be a sworn member. But at the end of the day I am grateful to my agency for allowing me to continue my work in a different capacity and still contribute.
How should we be advocating for better employment opportunities and practices in Florida?
I think, from my own experience and talking with others, that Florida is a great state in that there are many job opportunities available for people with a disability. Again, it may take some time and some personal adjustments on the part of the disabled person but still think the jobs are out there.
Which agency was the most helpful to you in accessing and maintaining employment?
I did not work with any agency geared toward me acquiring employment but know there are many resources available to those with disabilities in terms of finding suitable jobs.
In your opinion, how does employing a person with a disability help their quality of life?
I can say from personal experience, having a job and having the sense of independence is a major boost mentally. Just knowing you are still able to contribute to society, provide for yourself or your family, is a huge uplift emotionally. I also think, no matter what the job, it is good for both body and mind to get out and apply yourself. Sometimes, walling yourself up indoors can have some disastrous side effects so it is good to break up the monotony by getting out and living to the fullest.
FSACentral would like to thank Fern for his time and thoughtful answers.