I met Alan Muir through Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities (COSD). In a nutshell, it puts employers and students together (check out their website) in a bright and useful forum. I loved the annual conferences because I always got so much out of it – information on HR, disability, best practices at universities; contacts through the companies represented – I even got to meet some celebrities like Robert David Hall from CSI!
I wish there was something like COSD for professionals with disabilities. But I’m glad it’s there for students and I hope to God people use it to the fullest extent possible because it’s gold. Seriously.
Anyway, that’s COSD and not Alan. Alan started COSD and he runs it. He himself is a charming, very organized and extremely gracious family man. I love that he gave up his career for his wife to pursue hers – and look what happened! That’s love.
Here he is. Please reach out to COSD (the website link is at the bottom too), join, participate and hire!
Getting to Know You
Your name: Alan Muir
what’s your connection with disability? I am a Little Person Spondylephiseal Dysplasia (SED, for short) dwarfism
Star Trek or Star Wars? Given the choice, I would say Star Wars
If you could live in any other country for 2 years, where would you go? England
What dish would you bring to our community picnic potluck? Apple Pie
Now That We’ve Been Introduced…
What do you do: I am Founding Executive Director of Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities (COSD)
How did you come to doing what you do? How has your career trajectory flowed? My previous life was as a commercial banking lender for 16 years at Chase Manhattan Bank. I left there in 1998, as a Vice President.
My wife, Laura had just finished her degree and certification to become a Certified Nurse Midwife. It became clear that she was not going to find a practice that matched her training in the New York Metro area and we looked elsewhere and found a free-standing birth center in Knoxville. Her brother had also moved to the area a few years earlier, so it was an easy decision to move here.
I came to Knoxville with no job and conducted a 7 month self directed job search, meeting with 75 people about disability. I knew I could not go back to banking without completely starting over. During the search and informational interviews, I met with the then director of career services at the University of Tennessee (UT). He told me of an idea he had to integrate college students with disabilities on the UT campus into his office, since he intuitively knew he was not serving them well. Since neither of us had direct experience in doing this integration, we conducted nationwide research meeting with more than 25 higher education institutions and 35 major employers to identify a model program and to determine the track record of employers hiring college graduates with disabilities. The short answer to those questions was no model program and very little progress, but a lot of interest from the employers.
We came back to UT and established the Disability Careers Office, which Sarah Helm now runs. While that was starting up and becoming successful, we went back to our research partners and formed a consortium of career Services, disability Services and employer professionals to focus on this issue of career employment of college graduates with disabilities. Through initial four year funding from ODEP and subsequent corporate sponsorship, as my only funding sources, COSD grew to its present level of more than 700 higher education institutions and 600 major employers. I work to spread the idea of collaboration between career services and disability services to better serve college students with disabilities and to provide a “continuum of services” to those students, including getting them involved in career development activities. On the employer side, I continually work with them to keep the idea of recruiting college graduates with disabilities at the forefront of their minds when thinking about their diversity hiring programs and initiatives.
Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years? In 5 years, I would like to see COSD be a stronger organization with financial resources to be broader in reach.
Not to be morbid, but what do you want people to remember about you when you’ve gone? Not morbid, at all, as it is a legacy and that is why we are on this Earth for the short time we are. I would like to be remembered as someone who never backed away from a challenge and was always looking to give a hand up to young people with disabilities who are just looking for opportunities to successfully start their careers in an area and interest of their choice.
Who or what inspires you? Most recently, what inspires me is seeing students who had an idea of where they wanted to go, but had no map to get there, suddenly have the opportunity they always wanted. COSD has been the vehicle now for several students to get started. Seeing that “light” go on in a student and to see the discouragement and negativity change to happiness and optimism is what it is ALL about.
If you could say something to yourself in the past – that is, the you that was really struggling with something related to disability – what would you say? Hmmmm… I think I would say to myself in those days of struggling that life, the world and the work we all do in disability is so much bigger than us, individually. Experiences shape our lives, good and bad, but it is up to us how we use those experiences for the betterment of ourselves individually and also to those we touch, close to us (loved ones, close friends) and the folks we work with and try to help.
What do you like about your particular disability? What I like about my disability is that I make an impression on people I meet, in business situations, social situations or casually in airports and other points of travel. People remember me, hopefully for the better. The bad part of that is that most of the time when someone talks to me like they know me, I have NO idea who they are. I always ask, “So, that my memory is completely refreshed, where do I know you from?”
Any one thing that you wish people would *get* about disability? Strangers, in their zeal to be helpful, not understanding that I am able to do something, reaching for things, opening doors, climbing steps slowly or whatever. Folks will attempt to help and not realize that actually trying to lift me or steady me or some other method of assistance is actually dangerous to them and me. I will ask for help when I need it.
What single piece of technology makes your life easier? Driving a car!!
Where else can we find you online? Facebook
COSD website – www.cosdonline.org