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Success after Stroke:
Finding Employment through AbilityLinks

What began as a quiet, ordinary morning for Bill O’Connor changed in an instant, when, in the middle of making breakfast, he experienced an intense headache and numbness on his right side. “Call 9-1-1,” he yelled to his fiancée of three weeks, before he lost consciousness and hit the floor. A sudden hemorrhage in Bill’s brain had caused a stroke.

Bill awoke in an acute hospital a few days later, confused and unable to speak. Doctors were unsure he’d ever regain speech, but thankfully, that lasted only six days. However, when he was discharged from the ICU four weeks later, he was still unable to walk. When Bill came to Marianjoy for rehabilitation, his care team asked him what his goal was. “I appreciated that they worked towards what I really wanted, not just a medical checklist,” he says. His goal was to dance with his wife at their wedding.

He did that and more. After six weeks of rehabilitation and five months at home, Bill was fortunate to have a strong recovery. However, the after-effects of his stroke created new challenges and obstacles. He found the environment and demands of his old job were not conducive to his new abilities. “With this brand-new disability of mine, I had to go about searching for a job in a new way,” says O’Connor. “I needed new strategies and accessible technology. I was facing a whole new world trying to find work.”

Bill sought employment for two-and-a-half years before discovering AbilityLinks—a nationwide, web-based community sponsored by Marianjoy, where qualified job-seekers with disabilities and inclusive employers meet and gain access to valuable networking opportunities.

Through AbilityLinks, Bill met Referral Coordinator Janice Duvall, who, after learning more about his background, suggested he apply for an open position within the organization. Ken Skord, Director of AbilityLinks, says the decision to hire Bill was clear. “When Bill came to us following his stroke, he had a successful business career, a great attitude, and a persuasive personality,” says Skord. “Every day, I see him using all of these attributes to help job-seekers with disabilities find employment. He gives them great advice and support, and he is a terrific role model.”

When Bill learned he had gotten the job, he was thrilled. “I was really glad my experience led to something positive,” he says. “Often, job-seekers just need some guidance on how they can best represent themselves. I knew I could help people in this position find their positive attributes, because I had to do the same thing following my stroke.”

Bill himself has grown through working with AbilityLinks. “AbilityLinks is a very forward-thinking organization with a national focus,” he says. “I’ve learned so much in the ten years I’ve worked here, from disability advocacy and rights, to marketing and customer service.”

Though Bill did not foresee this career path for himself, he is grateful he’s had the chance to impact so many people in a positive way and become a mentor for others. “In this time of uncertainty in the job market, the disabled population has been hit especially hard,” he says. “I want to show job-seekers with disabilities that they can be just as successful as anyone—and I want to show companies that being inclusive pays off for them, too.”