By James Protho
Rivers Club, February 18, 2002 Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I have been asked to talk about what having competitive employment means to me.

Competitive employment means that I had to earn my job. Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield and Bender Consulting Services provided the opportunity, but I needed to have the training and skills necessary to take advantage of that opportunity. It was not just given to me; there are many other skilled people who would like to have this position. I am very proud that I competed against others and was the person selected. Now I have to constantly push myself to compete for advancement and the rewards that follow. This means that I have to always do my best and continue to improve.

The ability to compete for a higher salary is one of the incentives that motivates me to work harder. The more successful I am on my job, the greater the opportunity to make more money. Some jobs have a pay scale based on the length of time you spend on the job. There is no incentive to do your best. The only thing people with these types of jobs need to worry about is not getting fired. I feel these employers are not getting the best work from their employees. With competitive employment, employees are forced to put forth their best efforts or are left behind.

Competitive employment means earning a competitive salary that allows me to live on my own. Now I have the potential to earn levels of compensation that are bounded only by my efforts. The more successful I am on my job, the more money I can earn. My salary allows me to live on my own which means independence. Independence is very important to me. It feels good not having to depend on people physically or financially. The money I earn makes it possible for me to rent my own apartment, buy my own groceries, pay for attendant care, take vacations, and afford other necessities and even some luxuries of life.

As a person with a disability, I once felt I must work even harder than a person without a disability. I felt I could not compete with people without disabilities because I am a slow typist. But when I was at training, Joyce Bender told me that being a successful programmer has nothing to do with how fast one can type; it is how well one can program. It is not the quantity; it is the quality. I can rely on my knowledge, my perspective and the other abilities I possess to be successful. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to show what I can accomplish. I believe that I have much to offer an employer. I also realize that many people may doubt me. I want to show that not only I, but also many others like me are able to make valuable contributions to society. For that reason I am giving my all. I believe this is the reason Highmark and BCS invest in people with disabilities.

I would like to acknowledge the many people who helped me achieve the position I have always wanted. First of all, I would like to thank Joyce Bender and the Bender Consulting Services family. Without them, many people with disabilities who have the skills necessary to gain employment would not be able to get jobs. Joyce focuses on ability rather than disability. Specifically from BCS, I would like to mention Mary Brougher for her special attention she affords me during functions. I would also like to thank Ricco Brusco and Michael Aggas who informed Joyce of my skills and abilities.

To the people at Highmark, thanks for being a company that gives people with disabilities the opportunity to work. It is an extreme honor to work for one of Pittsburgh’s leading companies. It is apparent that the commitment comes from the top and is something Highmark truly believes in. I know of the work that both Mr. Alexander and Mr. Tabor continue to do in order to provide opportunities such as mine. The fact that I am a member of Mr. Mikula’s HIPAA project demonstrates his commitment to this effort. Loretta McLendon, my project leader, has made me feel like any other team member. She is a real pleasure for which to work. Tammie McNaughton has been helpful in getting the adaptive equipment I need to smooth some barriers. I would also like to give special thanks to my team lead, Sue Kass. She has been very helpful in work-related issues, teaching me, with patience and understanding what I need to know about the job.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge people from my past who were instrumental in my success. My thanks to Dean Brubaker and the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh and Tom Krapp and the people at the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation for paving the way for me educationally and vocationally.

In conclusion, I would like to thank Highmark and Bender Consulting Services for making competitive employment possible for people with disabilities. It has been an honor and a privilege to speak to all of you today.

Thank you