Teacher with Disability is Role Model for Students

Carolyn Diaz photo

Tampa, FL – “I’ve been in a wheelchair all my life and I don’t let it stop me from doing anything,” Carolyn Diaz says. Truer words have never been spoken. Carolyn has Larsen Syndrome, an inherited condition that affects the development of bones throughout the body. Both her father and uncle share the same diagnosis.

Carolyn hasn’t let her condition stop her from setting high goals for herself. She has maintained a job all her adult life, but in 2009, she knew she needed help to stay in the workforce. “I was in a situation where I was going to be unemployed,” Carolyn said. “I found myself in a bad economy, with no employment prospects, so I turned to VR for help.”

Reaching out to Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) turned out to be the right move. Carolyn was paired up with her VR Counselor, Kate Seipp, to come up with a plan to keep Carolyn working. “I met Kate in the summer of 2009, and she worked hard to get me approved and off the waiting the list,” Carolyn says.

Kate worked with Carolyn to help her find the right career path. They decided pursuing a job as a teacher would be both fulfilling and attainable for Carolyn. “We assisted with counseling and guidance,” Kate says. “VR paid for a year of education credits, which led to Carolyn’s certification as a special education teacher. VR also purchased a wheelchair for her and helped with making accommodations to her home and modifications to her car.”

Carolyn knows that without help, achieving her goal of becoming a teacher wouldn’t have been likely. “It wouldn’t have been financially available to me if VR hadn’t stepped in,” Carolyn says. “I couldn’t have done it without VR’s help.”

She is especially grateful to Kate for her individualized plan and guidance, “Kate was amazing,” Carolyn says. “She got everything approved that I needed.”

Equipped with her special education certificate, Carolyn landed a job as a high school teacher in Tampa. She says having a disability gives her an advantage in the classroom. “I teach special education to students with disabilities,” Carolyn says. “I feel I really am able to affect change. I think they need to see someone like me in a professional setting.”

Her supervisor, Jean Mauser, couldn’t agree more. “I think she has a good relationship with the kids,” Jean says. “What impressed me most was during an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting last year, she was telling a student how VR helped her. Also if a student is complaining about his circumstance, she tells him her story and explains how VR helped. She shares her story with the kids and their families.”

Carolyn plans to stay in the classroom teaching long-term. She enjoys being a living example of how someone with a disability can turn it into a positive and be a productive member of the workforce. She’s always ready to offer advice to students with disabilities looking to plan their career paths.

“It’s important to do the research first about the amount of opportunities in a field before going to school,” she says. “Pick a stable field, because we have more barriers than the average person. Be realistic about your disability, and advocate for yourself every step of the way. If you’re not advocating for yourself, no one else will.” Carolyn’s students can count on the fact that as long as she’s teaching, they’ll have an advocate fighting for them every step of the way.

Florida’s Vocational Rehabilitation program is committed to helping people with disabilities become part of America’s workforce. Our employer-focused website, FLJobConnections.com, allows businesses to search at no charge for employees who are ready to go to work, as well as to post available jobs. VR has 80 offices across Florida, and last year helped 6,071 Floridians with significant disabilities find or keep a job. For more information about VR and its services, call (800) 451-4327 or visit Rehabworks.org.