Editor’s Note: In honor of Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), Best Buy celebrates the contributions of workers with disabilities and the role they play in making the workplace a better place.
Maryland Best Buy employee Toni knows laughter can go a long way. The part-time virtual sales advisor is always the first to joke with her coworkers. It’s something that helps her share her story with others.
“I crack jokes because it makes it easier for people to deal with the situation,” she said.
Toni was born with a rare birth defect called cloacle exstrophy. It’s a condition where some of the organs that are normally in the lower abdomen are exposed externally. Toni also has spina bifida and scoliosis and uses a wheelchair.
Her conditions are not hereditary and by most medical accounts, she shouldn’t be here. Doctors didn’t think she’d live past the age of 10.
“Whether I like it or not, I was dealt a crummy hand. But if I can’t laugh about it then what’s the purpose in life?” she says. “I spent a lot of the early part of my life crying, feeling bad about myself going through all of the emotions.”
Humor and teamwork
Toni started at Best Buy six years ago as a phone operator at a store in Maryland and eventually moved to the sales floor. Management entrusted her to work the entire floor, not just a specific department.
“I had co-workers and a management team that looked past all of the physical stuff and let me be me,” she said.
James, her sales manager at the time, is familiar with Toni’s sense of humor and her deadpan delivery.
“I would say, ‘Toni is my expert and she’ll be able to take care of you from here.’ And she would say, ‘Well, I’ll definitely put my best foot forward!’” he said. “She never let the fact that she was in a wheelchair stop her from giving clients the best experience possible.”
The store team called themselves the Wolf Pack and they understood that when they won — or lost — they did it together.
“We were a family, and it was unacceptable to make any member of the team feel lower than you or out of place,” James said. “No one saw Toni’s disability when they interacted with her — they just saw Toni and what she contributed to the team.”
Toni is now working from home as a part-time virtual sales advisor. Spinal fusion surgery a year ago made working in the store too taxing on her body. She takes calls from customers looking to buy everything from appliances to computers. Her experience on the store sales floor made her a natural fit for her current role.
Keeping a positive outlook
Toni is an open book about her condition and she’s always willing to share her experience with others.
“I would prefer people ask me questions rather than to assume,” she says. “I’m very open about my medical conditions as long as somebody is willing to learn.”
If you ask her, Toni will tell you she survived a 24-hour surgery at just three days old. She’ll tell you she has two titanium rods that go down the full length of her back. And she’ll tell you she has good days and bad days.
“I’ve learned over the years to look at the positive that I have over the negatives,” she said.
And one of the positives is her employment with Best Buy. This is the longest job she’s ever had, and Toni credits her coworkers and management — and of course, the Wolf Pack — for making her feel like she’s part of a family.
“I’ve never felt like I was treated any differently because of the wheelchair,” she said.
Toni also finds support as a member of the disABILITIES and Pride employee resource groups (ERGs). And, as an avid gamer, she’s found a place in Best Buy’s gaming focused inclusion network (FIN), too.
She celebrates victories with the rest of the virtual sales team and her former store managers still leave the door open for her.
It’s the kind of community that feels like home. Laughter and all.
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