TechRepublic ran a pair of articles in March on hiring workers with disabilities (“Hire IT pros with disabilities to fill your worker shortage” and “Talented IT pros are overlooked due to disabilities”). Member James Carey is one of those workers, and he’s enjoying great success.

Carey has obstructive sleep apnea, which causes fatigue and impairs concentration. He also has arthritis of the spine and carpal tunnel syndrome.

“Most [of my physical problems] are inconveniences,” Carey said, “except for obstructive sleep apnea, which, due to lower levels of oxygen, can cause my immune system to be somewhat out of whack.”

As a PC technician for GreenPoint Mortgage Funding Inc., Carey’s job description is closer to a consultant’s than that of a typical PC tech. He’s working on an ongoing project to delete offline computers from the network. In another project, he had to retrieve a text file from a UNIX-based call processing box and then format the text file and bring it into an Access database.

He learned his basic PC skills when he was first placed on disability. His goal was to learn IT skills that would allow him to rejoin the workforce. A friend encouraged him to study networking and helped him get started.

Carey uses the skills he developed then on the job today, balancing special projects with his day-to-day duties. He is a proactive support tech, walking around the company and talking to users about problems they have, whether minute or massive. “As a result,” he said, “the load that I have to handle in support generally is not what it would have been if I were spending most of my time waiting for problems and responding to them.”

Vital statistics

Name: James Carey
Title: PC Technician
Company: GreenPoint Mortgage Funding, Inc., Servicing Division
Years in IT: 4

Most interesting job: The one I am in now.

Certifications: MCSE NT 4.x, A+, Pursuing: Network+, MCSE 2000, Compaq Desktop ACT

Favorite TechRepublic features: Information about operating systems, fixes, and tips
Hobbies: Computers, computers, and more computers. I have a network of six computers in a building behind my house. Two servers and four workstations. (Not counting the notebook.)
Favorite geek sites:

TechRepublic: How did your IT career begin?
Carey: The first thing that I did when I was declared disabled was to take the settlement money and purchase a computer. With the sole intent purpose that I would no longer be on disability, I spent every waking minute, and every dime that I could come up with, acquiring computer parts and networking them. I had some support from some friends, including one who told me “…you need to get into networking.” To that end, he helped me build a server, but every moment that I spent, everything that I did, my whole life was literally consumed with the acquisition of skills from that time.

TechRepublic: Specifically, how did you acquire those skills?
Carey: At first, it was just things like getting games to work in a DOS environment. That taught me skills with DOS. But then it became more than that. It was the challenge of simply getting something done, getting it to work, getting a software product to install. That was more the reward than playing with a game. It became networking computers, learning about new operating systems, playing with OS2, playing with Windows NT. I went to school for programming, which gave me sufficient documentation of some sort of skills that helped get me in the door.

TechRepublic: How did you make the move into the workforce?
Carey: The best thing, I think, that I could have done was the networking that I did unintentionally by simply fixing computers for a bottle of Coke. I mean, literally, when I was on disability, if your computer was broke, buy me lunch, give me a bottle of Coke. Anything I could do to get experience. I gave away my skills, but it was worth it. In doing so, I made some contacts and good references. One of the contacts that I met is my current department manager, so he was pretty well aware of what my potential was. That was the best thing I could do.

TechRepublic: What advice would you offer to employers about hiring someone who might have a disability?
Carey: Give them every opportunity you can. Most likely, you will find these are highly motivated people who are probably going to actually perform in excess of what their average employee will, and accomplish more, and be more productive simply because they are that motivated.

TechRepublic: What has been the biggest challenge in your job?
Carey: Balancing the acquisition of new skills with the responsibilities of the job. You have to make up your mind you’re going to give up a portion of your personal time.

TechRepublic: What new skills are you most actively acquiring right now?
Carey: Windows 2000 skills. I’m attempting to acquire more management-level skills. I’d like to move up, move away from the more physical aspects of the job. That is simply an issue of that’s where the responsibility comes, but it’s also where the money comes.

TechRepublic: What advice would you like to pass on to TechRepublic members?
Carey: Just remember that although we deal with computers, we’re also dealing with human beings; users are human beings, managers are human beings, and try not to allow ourselves to be separated from the people that we deal with.