Chronically Employed: Preschool Teacher Starts Own Business After Diagnosis

Durdana Joseph-Ricchiuto, 41, Providence, NC.

GG | RARE Project: What sort of job did you have before getting sick?

Durdana Joseph-Ricchiuto: I worked in a preschool and fulfilled three roles: computer teacher, floater and assistant teacher.

GG: Can you explain in detail what it is you are currently doing for a living? How is this type of job better suited to someone with your disabilities than your previous job? 

DJR: I currently manage marketing needs for self-published authors and small and medium-sized businesses; I handle some projects as a vendor rather than one-off projects.

The kind of work I handle is diverse and includes anything that can be done remotely: creating video trailers for books, web site set-ups, search engine optimization, competitive analysis, writing, designing, printing and mailing newsletters, etc.

The clients usually meet me face-to-face in their office or mine. After that, all of the work is done from my home office or office in the city.

This type of work is better for me as it reduces dependency on verbal communication and reduces chances of miscommunication. It also requires no heavy lifting (my previous job required picking up toddlers that were 35lb+.)

My company is SaleAttraction and I handle three types of business services:

1. Help self-published authors with marketing their books

2. Print newsletter and magazine designing/production

3. Web design and online marketing

GG: What is your disease/disability and how does it specifically stop you from working a full-time job outside of home?

DJR: My ailment is a combination of severe hearing loss, tinnitus and loss of balance. Even with hearing aids, I have difficulty hearing and comprehending people and that results in poor performance at jobs that require one to be on-site.

GG:  Do you still encounter any challenges with your new profession because of your illness? How did you work around it?  

DJR: Not much. I have become used to the new me. I kind of have become dependent on my ailment to create a bubble around me that makes it easier for me to concentrate at work since I cannot hear what people around me are doing or talking about.

GG: Do you work alone or with other people? How did you explain your situation to them, or did you have to say anything at all? 

DJR: 80 percent of the time, I work alone. If I do have business meetings with clients that require face-to-face meetings, I let them know that I have a hearing impairment and allow me to sit where I can hear all participants. People are very empathetic, not looking at me funny if I didn’t hear them. During the first few months, I was ashamed of my new ailment, so I didn’t explain to people and it created a lot of problems at work.

GG: Do you have any type of insurance? If so how are you acquiring it? If you don’t have insurance, how are you dealing with you healthcare costs?

DJR: Before I was laid off in 2006, I did have insurance, but it didn’t cover hearing aids. So I paid that out-of-pocket. I did try a lot of alternative medicine, which didn’t help. Insurance would have covered a surgery called Stapedectomy but it was an invasive procedure and, as a single mom, I was afraid of taking chances, so I opted not to go through that. When the insurance ran out, I felt I just had to live with the condition I had developed and just take care of my general health. I could get insurance, but it seems like the cost of it is unjustifiable. If we do get sick, we just pay the doctors’ bills and prescriptions with a credit card. The money I would have spent on health insurance gets invested in the business.

GG: What is an average day like for you at your new job? 

DJR: I check and answer emails at 8 am.  Following that, I work for about an hour then take care of my four year old. I work an hour here, half an hour there until 11 pm.

GG: What advice do you have for other patients looking to start a new kind of job that fits around their illness? 

DJR: Journaling can help to find out what new career you can look into; it helped me go back to my previous career of online marketing. Craigslist for telecommuting jobs is very helpful too.

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