Getting to work: Q&A with Joseph Lowe

Imagine you received an exciting job offer, but you didn’t have a way to get to your office because there was no accessible transportation. That’s the challenge that Sandy resident Joseph Lowe faced when he needed to commute from his home to his new employer in Salem. 

The Department of Human Services’ Vocational Rehabilitation program lifts barriers for Oregonians with a disability to getting and keeping a job. The program strives to help Oregonians with disabilities to achieve and maintain independence.

Joseph, and his Disability Rights Oregon attorney, convinced the program to help him purchase a vehicle that could fit his wheelchair. The rules are complicated. But, the program determined that, because Joseph had a job offer, and there were no public transportation options for him to commute from Sandy to Salem, helping him purchase an accessible van was the only way for him to be able to get and keep his new job. 

Can you share a little about your background? Are you from Oregon? 

I live in Sandy, Oregon. But I’m originally from North Carolina. I’ve been an advocate for eight or nine years now. I have a real passion and a drive for ensuring people with disabilities have equal opportunity in their communities. I really think that passion would be there even if I wasn’t disabled myself. So I enjoyed doing my advocacy efforts and felt like I could be a voice for the voiceless.

Photo: Joseph Lowe sits at a desk in front of a computer and paperwork. He is using a power wheelchair.

Joseph Lowe at work

Congrats on your new job! What kind of work are you involved in? 

I’m a Program Analyst in the state’s Aging & People with Disabilities (APD) office. I’m responsible for coordinating all disability services advisory councils throughout the state. The consumer’s voice has slowly been dwindling down over the years and so hopefully through this job I can help rebuild that voice and have people with disabilities speaking out and advocating for their needs and equal opportunities again.

What was your disability that caused a barrier to getting or keeping this job? 

I was born with Arthrogryposis (a very rare bone deformity that limits range of motion and ambulatory abilities). To be as mobile and independent as possible, I need my power wheelchair. The job I was offered was located in Salem, and I live in Sandy. So I knew transportation would be the biggest barrier. It’s 63 miles one way. No matter how good a job Oregon does with public transportation, we’d never be able to do that.

That means I need to be able to transport my power wheelchair to Salem. And I didn’t have financial means to purchase outright a vehicle that could fit my power wheelchair.

Were there any other transportation options for you to commute to work?

There is no easy way to go from Sandy to Salem. The city of Sandy has a fixed door-to-door paratransit service route that covers just the town itself. The bus route from Salem to Gresham requires jumping on the Max train. But there was no other option to go all the way to Salem.

Why was it important to you to be able to get and keep a job? 

Over the last eight or nine years, I’ve served on 30+ councils. Although I enjoyed & really do miss it, I knew there was something bigger I could be doing. So my intent was to get a job where I could still make an impact and help improve the world for people with disabilities…and also I’d like to be able to earn money and hopefully one day be financially stable enough to get off of services altogether. I also see this job as an opportunity to start saving money so that someday I can launch my own business. I believe in giving back and through my current job and hopefully my own business (a durable medical equipment shop) I know I could be very successful at giving back.

Photo: Matthew Denney, wearing a suit, takes a selfie and smiles at the camera.

Staff attorney Matthew Denney

How did your Disability Rights Oregon attorney Matthew Denney help you?

Matthew convinced Vocational Rehabilitation that I met all of their criteria. I had a guaranteed job coming and I needed transportation in order to commute to my work site. He even was able to get Vocational Rehabilitation to fund for a rental vehicle to ensure I had transportation and could accept this job while everyone worked on purchasing a vehicle. I don’t think I’d have been able to accept the job or purchase the vehicle without Matthew’s help.

Why is independence important to you?

I consider independence almost the same as equal opportunity. People have the right to have a job, a sense of financial stability, and the self-worth that comes with functioning to their fullest ability without being forced to depend on other people. I wanted to be financially stable so that I don’t need the assistance of the government.

Independence means being equal to my peers in the community, staying active, and contributing as much as I possibly can.

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