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Advocate for Interns

April 1, 2022 Jim Warner
Katie Jo Glesing sitting outdoors with the Ekstrom library in the background.

Graduate internship advisor Katie Jo Glesing has had an impressive number of jobs over the past ten years. From working with exotic animals to being a court reporter to serving as an admissions officer for a funeral college, Katie’s resume is as interesting as the stories she could share from her work experiences. “When I worked at Mid-America College of Funeral Services, I had to get a bit of background on internships for mortuary science,” says Katie Jo. When the opportunity arose to join the College, she jumped at the chance. “Internships sounded like a good fit.”

In her role with the College, Katie Jo serves as a connector between businesses and students. While Katie Jo does not directly place students within internships, she helps students find solid opportunities. She also serves as a resource for interns regarding concerns between students and employers. Sampling a wide range of careers, in many ways, makes her an ideal advisor for interns—there will be nothing novel or shocking when it comes to what her interns may experience.

From this range of professional experiences, one of the most critical takeaways Katie Jo learned was the importance of advocacy. Exploring, understanding, and ultimately asking for the support one needs in a job may not be one of the first professional skillsets that jump to mind in career development. For Katie Jo, advocacy directly resulted from being diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos syndrome (EDS).

Invisible Illness Made Visible

EDS is a group of inherited disorders that primarily affect connective tissues. There are 13 sub-types of EDS currently recognized. Katie Jo suffers from Hypermobile EDS, explaining, “basically most of my joints dislocate regularly causing [reactions such as] migraines and fainting that are just incapacitating.” It eventually took two weeks spent at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, to receive her diagnosis.

“At my first couple of jobs, I didn’t know what disability I had. I didn’t find out what I had until I was 26, so I was running into issues.” Moreover, these issues with employers were made more challenging to navigate as EDS is an invisible illness—a medical condition that may not be outwardly visible or present external symptoms. Those suffering from invisible illnesses often experience discrimination and social prejudices by their very name. This ableism can range from lack of accessibility in public spaces to invasive questions about their disabilities.

From Diagnosis to Advocate

“I know that some [at UofL] have probably noticed that I have an accessible parking pass and probably have gone, ‘Huh. She looks normal; why does she have that?’ And it’s because both of my hips, knees, and ankles regularly dislocate or sublux, which can make it hard to walk.” Katie Jo has several accessible devices in her office, including a cane, shoe inserts, a cervical collar, and up to 16 different braces—all reasonable accommodations that allow Katie Jo to do her work. “My jewelry are braces,” Katie Jo adds. “My fingers are deformed…which can make typing a bit more difficult. I’ve definitely had people comment about my ‘ugly rings’ before, not knowing that they’re braces.” 

In the three years since her diagnosis, Katie Jo’s experiences have helped give her a voice in the workplace—both for herself and to advocate for others. “I understand that from an employer side, an employer cannot ask you outright if you’re disabled. They cannot say ‘What’s wrong with you?’ but you can voluntarily disclose to get the help you might need.” Being mindful, Katie Jo also does not directly ask students about their possible conditions or need for accommodations. “I usually like to leave an open-ended question on our survey: Is there anything else we should know about you to help with your internship process?” While Katie Jo does not directly communicate a need for accommodations with employers, she does offer interns strategies and support to engage in the conversation themselves. “I really enjoy knowing that we have an impact on the community.”

Accessibility for All

This fall, Katie Jo’s journey continues as she begins her MBA online at the College, and explores a desire to start a UofL paranormal research group. Pursuing those passions has already made for a compelling career path. Regardless of what’s next, her sense of advocacy will lead the way.

“If we can bring a generation into the workforce who understands reasonable accommodation and that not everyone has the same body, it will greatly benefit the local labor market and labor force by increasing job security. We are all just one accident or diagnosis away from needing accommodations,” says Katie Jo. “If our community becomes more accessible, it will only make life easier for most people who have these disabilities and don’t want to talk about it. Even if you have a physical disability, not having accommodations or being able to do your job impacts your mental health. If we can work together, come up with some solutions, we’re obligated to do so. It’s our responsibility.”

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