This October marks the 25th anniversary of National Disability Employment Awareness Month. To celebrate, we sat down to speak with Christopher Lipps, an Ashford University graduate, to hear his thoughts about disability, employment, and living the best life possible. While there are many Ashford students who are impacted by disabilities and ongoing medical conditions, this eastern Kentucky resident’s story is one of overcoming tremendous odds and living a life that is truly inspiring.
The circumstances that led to Chris’ visual impairment are particularly heart wrenching. Born without any visual impairment or related disability, Chris was abused by his mother, which resulted in his lifelong disability. While the abuse happened on multiple occasions, what Chris calls “the main incident” occurred when he was just eleven months old. “No one knows exactly what happened, because it was just me and her…” While the details of what took place may never be known, the events of that night have drastically impacted his life. “I suffered severe head trauma…I was in a coma for three days.” Chris had suffered from brain damage that left him completely blind in one eye, partially blind in his other eye, and developmentally impacted.
Needless to say, Chris’ visual impairment has profoundly affected his life. When Chris decided to go to college, he found that the traditional institution he was attending did not suit him. “I had to live on campus because I knew I couldn’t drive to get back and forth to school, but trying to read my textbooks was my main obstacle.” And while the school was able to assist with large print text and other accommodations, Chris found that one of his biggest struggles was internal. “I did not want to accept my disability. I did not want to acknowledge that I needed help, so I was trying to get by with as little help as possible; that way [in my mind] I seemed more like everybody else. And it just wasn’t working out.”
After dropping out, Chris worked a number of jobs. He spent time working at a grocery store and also in several factories manufacturing car parts. “I got fired because my eye sight started getting worse.” For Chris, who had spent so much time not wanting to accept his disability, losing his job as a result of it was a wakeup call. After being let go, Chris applied for and started receiving disability benefits.
Now, more than 10 years later, this married father of one is pursuing his education and getting closer, step-by-step, to achieving his dreams. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education with a minor in Sociology, with honors, from Ashford, and is putting his knowledge to good use. Chris volunteers at a daycare and also works in faith-based performing arts, where he has the opportunity to reach out to young children. “We go into daycares and teach them about nutrition, health, and personal hygiene.” He does all this while raising a child of his own and continuing his studies at Ashford by pursuing a Master of Arts in Organizational Management, Project Management specialization. After he graduates, he plans on using his education to continue helping young people. “I believe that my calling is with children,” he says.
When speaking with Chris, one is struck by his positivity and his kindhearted, outgoing nature. It’s easy to forget the personal hardships he’s endured. When asked what advice he would offer others impacted by a disability, his advice is simple. “It’s a matter of finding your talent, or your ability, and expressing it in your own personal way” – something that Christopher Lipps has managed to do with flying colors.
And if you’re interested in aligning your career with your calling, one great way to start your search is by visiting GettingHired. Their mission is to create sustainable employment growth and opportunity for people with disabilities. Another great option is to visit Ashford University Career Services to reach your greatest career potential.
Written by Ashford University staff
Every day great ideas, advice, and information are discussed around the institution. This knowledge is shared with students, alumni, friends, and faculty, but on a small scale. This blog was created to engage a larger audience, a group of lifelong learners who read, think, and provide valuable feedback. Forward Thinking is meant to be more than a blog; it’s another way of learning – for us and for you.