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Need to stand out? Play the National Anthem!

In 2000, I was determined to work in Professional Baseball. I mailed cover letters and resumes to every Minor and Major League organization in the country. I got exactly one reply. Mark Fine, of the AA Frederick Keys called. He told me about the Winter Meetings, and encouraged me to go. The meetings are one part trade show, one part employment expo and one part stat nerd paradise as GM’s burn the midnight oil signing free agents or trading players for the upcoming season.

The day before everything officially began,  I was at an informational session about how to get into the game. All around me eager baseball wanna bees sat waiting. Shawn Smith, the then-GM of the A Lowell Spinners, took the mic, and asked if anyone was afraid? I said to myself “ I’m afraid, and I need a way to stand out, the worst that can happen is someone laughs.” Well, I stood up and said I was. While the then president of the minor leagues said in a gruff voice, “you don’t need to be afraid!” Shawn took me aside afterwards and told me that he was impressed with my willingness to stand out and take a risk. Getting home from the meetings, I learned that I had to find a way to differentiate myself from the crowd. So, I called Shawn, and asked I could play the National Anthem for the Spinners on my fiddle AKA violin?

I tried out, made it, and played in July of 2002. I was asked back by the owner to do ballpark entertainment, and over the next 10 years my fiddle and I have  played the Anthem for the Red Sox, Orioles, Twins, and various Minor League teams around New England and Metro NYC. I never did end up working in the game, though I’ve made friends with some great people in the business and love the thrill of walking onto a field and performing in a packed ballpark. There really is nothing like it. The lesson? Find a way to differentiate yourself from the crowd, whatever it is, make sure it’s something that’s unique to you and that people remember.


Skype: A whole lot more than just free phone calls

While there are exceptions, too often, young adults with disabilities are completely unprepared to disclose their disability, or tell others how it affects them and have extreme difficulty finding work. Correcting this imbalance starts with building a support network. It starts with finding the student or their parents a mentor(s) to help them through the ups and downs of life with a disability

This is where social media comes in. Growing up, I was one of the very few people with cerebral palsy in my county, never mind in the small town where I grew up. Growing up today, my location wouldn’t matter because social media allows individuals to talk to anyone at any time. So, whether you’re a single dad in Melbourne trying to help your son who has ADD or a 17 year-old with cp in Charleston, you can find individuals and organizations professional with disabilities the world over who have been there and done that. Yes, email is great, but there is nothing better than having someone see you and hear you, and since 90 percent of communication is non-verbal, seeing someone’s facial expressions is key when having serious discussions. Such connections are critical since youth with disabilities are often victims of bullying and other forms of abuse. Skype has the potential to change all that. Perhaps it already has? I’m betting the answer is yes.

Have disability will travel

Today, I was in the Apple store on 5th Avenue in NYC, the cacophony of languages was astounding. Spanish, English, Chinese, Japanese, Italian… It struck me that traveling allows you to get out of your comfort zone, learn about someone else’s culture, about your own, and about yourself as a whole. I found two great pictures on Twitter of Judy Heuman, the State Department’s advisor on disability rights in Mongolia, and earlier this month, in Venezuela. Venezuelans That got me thinking of my own experience traveling abroad. Back when I did it, gulp almost 20 years ago, it was a rare event. Clearly, times have changed!

What’s in a category?

Today, I was zipping across linkedin in my daily trolling for disability and or employment stories and I came across this link  for a White House award for people in communities across the country who have made a real effort to change their communities for the better.  While there are several categories and the nominations for the award have closed, disability and employment has it’s own category. Twenty five years ago, the ADA was passed and that was groundbreaking, literally. Back then, disability and employment were hardly mentioned at all, never mind in the same sentence. While society certainly has a long way to go, it’s come a long way too.

Why would a Red Sox fan have anything good to say about the Yankees?


Good question.

I learned to hate Bucky Dent before I could walk and I’m still bitter about Aaron Boone almost 11 years after he slammed Tim Wakfield’s pitch out of Yankee stadium. Three rings in 10 years have helped make the pain go away, but something else has too.

While all MLB teams have accessible seating areas, the Yankees, are in my experience (and as far as I know) the only team that has dedicated concession lines for people with physical disabilities in MLB. So Red Sox fan or not, I get faster service and people in wheelchairs or scooters can use a counter designed with their vehicle’s height in mind. Whenever I go to the New Yankee Stadium, I love being able to of get my food quickly with no pain or inconvenience required. In taking this simple action, the Yankees have made a loyal customer out of me, and taken advantage of a consumer market, that when combined with people with invidible disabilities like dyslexia or depression numbers 56.7 million.

As for rooting for the Bronx Bombers, sorry, that won’t happen in 20 lifetimes!

Is having a disability an advantage in the workplace?


The quick answer is no right?

Growing up with cerebral palsy, I had to figure out how to think outside the box to get things done. I couldn’t stand and vacuum so I learned to do it sitting in a chair. I couldn’t make a wedge for a snowplow turn I learned how to parallel instead.

When I needed to make extra money for airfare and initial living expenses for an upcoming year abroad in Ireland, I had to go outside the norm.

Obviously, waiting tables, tending bar or working retail were out of the question, I needed something else. Without a car, and having already maxed out my work-study hours, I had to find something unique that I could do regardless of my disability.

One afternoon, I saw a dumpster bulging with cans…

I got permission from campus administrators, talked some friends into helping me haul them in their cars and in a year I made $800. I came back my senior year and made $1,000.

The point? My disability forced me to: Think outside the box, create a plan, get support, execute the plan and make a profit. All are skills that an employer looks for in productive employees. If you’d like to learn more about me, reach out on Twitter to @fiddlenetwork. 

What is good customer service?

My girlfriend and I are foodies. We love trying restaurant in and around NYC. When we find one we love we come back.

This begs the fundamental question what makes one business fail while another one thrives? Customer service.

When I walk in to Ottomanelli’s Burgers and Belgian frite’s, the place is spotless, I’m helped by a positive, employee who takes my order with a smile. The meat comes from the butcher shop owned by the Ottomanelli family that’s been serving Woodside, Queens and the 5 Burroughs since 1960. Whenever possible, local meat is carried.

The price is unbeatable. For around $6 I can get a burger with as amny of the 5-10 additional toppings I want at no extra charge. The fries are made in-house, and you can get an extra kick with garlic or chipotle among others, cooked into your burger. However, the meat is so flavorful that 2 of the 4 times I’ve been there, I’ve had the burger with no toppings. Then there’s the price.

My girlfriend and I had two burgers, 2 orders of fries and drinks for $21.46. In NYC, that’s unheard of.

The icing on the cake is the owner, Frank. He loves what he does. Regardless of the size of the crowd, or time of day, he comes out and asks how the meal was. What he demonstrates is a constant desire to welcome people in a clean, welcoming environment, where for a reasonable price, you can get outstanding food. Frank’s business model is simple it’s an example of what good customer service is all about, and how to maintain and grow your client base.