ORLANDO, Fla. — Being “just one of the team” means a lot to Rand Stiles, a manpower, personnel and training functional lead in the Marine Corps Systems Command (MCSC) Training Systems (TRASYS) Program Management Office in Orlando, Fla. A few years ago, Stiles was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease (PD), a progressive neurological disorder with unknown causes and no known cure. It manifests itself in many ways, but the most visible symptoms are uncontrolled muscle movements and weakening of both voluntary and involuntary functions such as salivation, speech and physical strength.
“I like to think there was some divine intervention that led me to a position at TRASYS prior to the onset of Parkinson’s,” Stiles said. “I am blessed to work with an amazing, devoted, intelligent, helpful and caring team of government and contractor professionals. From the perspective of my PD, my teammates here have taken it all in stride, but have also helped me continue to function as a teammate. There is no way to express the value of friends who keep you sustained and functioning. And the very best co-workers are Marines who appreciate that what challenges us makes us stronger.”
Since the onset of PD, Stiles has had to overcome a number of daily physical challenges. As a result of his disability, he cannot type at work. Instead, he must rely on voice recognition software to do so.
“I try to avoid social pot lucks and the like because simply holding a plate in one hand while loading up with the other is now in the art of the impossible,” he said. “Maintaining balance can really be entertaining at times. Simple things I once took for granted, such as manhandling jar lids loose, now requires politely asking someone for help.”
National Disability Employment Awareness Month, observed in October each year, is a national effort to raise awareness about disability employment issues and celebrates the contributions of the country’s workers with disabilities. Stiles has mixed emotions about the observance.
“If it's used to raise awareness and help the workplace understand that old adage, ‘What doesn't kill us makes us stronger,’ then I think it’s a good idea,” he said. “The only objection I have to awareness months of any kind is when such highlighting is aimed at making some segment of our culture feel ‘special,’ or worse, feel ‘entitled.’”
Stiles believes people with disabilities can make the same contributions in the workplace as anyone else. He also feels that those challenged with a disability can help others learn to cope with whatever challenges come their way.
“A disability is just another factor that makes us diverse, and learning to embrace diversity makes us stronger,” he said. “Overcoming the challenges of diversity is what built and sustained this great nation of ours.”
For those unsure on how to interact with people with disabilities, Stiles offers practical advice.
“Accept what you see,” he said. “PD is out there, up front, in your face. Don't let it make you feel uncomfortable because your discomfort then becomes ours. If you have questions or are just curious, ask. I appreciate co-workers who want to know and who are comfortable with my challenges. After all, disabilities are common in our line of work. A little shakiness is easy compared to what others deal with.”
When asked what he is most proud of in managing his disability, Stiles said, “Hands down, it's all about serving Marines. I am most proud of being able to continue serving them.”