My job has nothing to do with my wheelchair
My name is Maria, and I work in the HR department at ING. I am married and have a little daughter. We live near Frankfurt. We love to travel. It’s our biggest passion. We’ve been to Bali, Thailand, the Caribbean, Australia, USA, and many other countries. And I’m sure there’s many more to come.
After high school, I spent a year in the USA as an au-pair. I was curious to see the world. Towards the end of that year, I toured the west coast of the United States. In Monument Valley, I fell off my horse and injured my spinal cord. Since then, I have been in a wheelchair.
I was just 20 and, of course, it was hard for me at first. My life changed completely within seconds. I returned to Germany and moved in with my parents. In the beginning, I could hardly do anything on my own and had to relearn many basic things, like getting dressed.
Doing things differently
Gradually, I got back in synch with my body. I just had to do things differently. I love my freedom. My parents raised me to be a free, independent woman, and the wheelchair reinforced that need.
Sometime after the accident, I started looking around for a suitable sport. Someone told me about wheelchair basketball. I was never good at ball sports, but they convinced me to try it. And sure enough, I enjoyed it and got competitive! The more I trained, the better I got. And then came the invitation to the German national team tryouts: It was unbelievable, but fantastic.
Like in the movies
2012 brought about more big changes. The first came with the Paralympic Games in London. I had trained so hard for it and suddenly I was really there, at the Games! It was like being in a movie. Our team got better and better with each game. We made it to the final and beat Australia 58-44 – we won gold!
After the games, I applied for a job at ING. I talked openly about my wheelchair. Why not? In the job interview, I made it clear I didn't need any help, as long as everything was set up to be barrier-free. There was an elevator, and the toilets were sufficiently large. So it was all no problem. ING is very open-minded and supports diversity.
At first, my colleagues had to get used to the fact that I didn't need any help 😉. But my independence is important to me. If I need help, I ask. By now, everyone understands that. I'm proud of my work. After all, I'm responsible for over 60 trainees and work-study students. And isn't it cool to be a role model for so many people?
There are only some occasions when I feel "different" among strangers because of the wheelchair, like if they talk to me like I am a child. In such cases, we are literally not seeing eye-to-eye. So, I just stay true to myself and show them that my job has nothing to do with my wheelchair.
At ING, we live diversity and inclusion. Everyone can contribute to ING with the entirety of their personality. With or without a disability.