Our next interview is with Penny Lanese.  Penny and I do not know each other very well, but getting to know her through this interview has been an absolute joy.

Tell me a bit about yourself, what you enjoy doing in your free time, and your disability.

My name is Penny Lanese but most people call me Pen. I was diagnosed with SMA II at 15 months old. I have my BA from CSUSMand now am happily employed there! I am married (my husband also works at CSUSM) and we enjoy playing video games (World of Warcraft), watching anime, domestic travel, and playing Pokemon GO. Some benchmarks – I can feed myself but am so slow my husband frequently helps, spinal fusion and not currently doing Spinraza, totally unable to walk and cannot lift my arms above my head. 

What do you do for a living?

I am an Identity Management (IDM) Account Technician in IITS at CSUSM. Specifically, any people that are created, elevated, reassigned, or closed out are created, modified, or deleted through the IDM workgroup. I am also the person in charge of the campus Multi-factor Authentication roll-out and SSO integrations! IDM also assists the Help Desk with tier 2 support. 

Why did you choose that job or career?

When I was a student at CSUSM I was interested in doing the lab technician job in between classes, which at the time was basic computer lab troubleshooting. The more I did the job the more I enjoyed working. I worked hard to create a good impression and show that I am able to adapt to all kinds of challenges. When I graduated, I was offered an administrative assistant job (more clerical than technical) and I had to show my team that I could hold my own as a technical staff member. October 2006 I was reclassified to an Information Technology Consultant (technical!) and have since been reclassified as career (salaried!)

What do you love about your job and what do you find difficult?

​I don’t know if it’s because I’m in California or that I work at a University, but I feel like I have imposter syndrome since I am constantly uplifted by my colleagues and other departments. My decisions are trusted and my opinions are sought after. My husband is offered some lesser flexibility to assist me in the event of an emergency at work. I feel very lucky. The hardest parts are the intangibles (I also have generalized anxiety disorder) and the uncontrollable parts of SMA. 

What’s your favourite memory of your career so far? What are you most proud of?

When I graduated, the IITS Dean was there in full garb and personally congratulated me. He always looked out for me and made sure that the challenges I faced had nothing to do with SMA and for that I am grateful. I have had many opportunities come my way and that makes me the most proud. My father passed away in 2016 and he wanted me to be as independent as possible and I think he would be proud. My mother is still with us and I know she is! That keeps me going.

Did you go to college? Where did you go?

CSUSM, but I was a terrible student. I got my life together when I realized that I could work at CSUSM if I truly applied myself.

What kinds of accommodations did your college give you, both in and out of class?

The CSUSM DSS is top notch. They moved my classes, arranged note taking services, and gave me tough love when I needed it. 

What was job hunting like? Do you think your disability had any affect on your job hunt?

I wasn’t looking for a job when I started as a student employee (2001? I think?). I was minding my own business in the open lab and saw the staff member dispense justice on a student looking for trouble and knew then that I wanted her as a mentor. She pretty much hired me right away. I was hoping to make a little bit of spending money without losing SSI and IHHS services and the government agencies (aside from DoR) were the worst part of the job hunt and employment in general. 

What accommodations does your workplace provide?

My office is located on the ground floor in case of emergency. The doors to the building are automated (like a supermarket) but before they were, the University installed electric floor push bars to make sure I had sufficient access. My office door has a handle where I can hook my footrest to open and close it. I have a table that raises and lowers and they have provided a stylus in place of a mouse.

What are some things that make your job difficult, in relation to your disability?

There are days I get so tired and I can barely move my arms – so I yell at my phone and use that to transcribe words. Going to meetings outside of my building and floor can be difficult, but I manage to hitch a ride with anyone willing to tap the elevator button for me! Restrooming is a HUGE challenge but when isn’t it?! I worked an unusually long day last semester (massive server change) and the delays made it so I was very late coming home, and pee math is famously inflexible. I ended up completing my portion from offsite but I should have had the foresight to ask about that from the beginning and avoided hours of pain and discomfort. 

What advice would you give to someone with a disability who wants to go into your field?

Even though my workplace has been exceptionally accommodating, it took effort to show that I could do the job. I was willing to take any job that would take me, even if that meant I was lowering my IHHS and SSI. Once I got married that all evaporated anyway so we are doing the best we can. I am completely honest with my leadership team and in turn I have to be honest with myself. I am working toward more leadership roles because I will get weaker – maybe not right away, but facts are facts.

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