Marathon Victim Has New Outlook on Disabilities

By Dana Wilkie Jun 22, 2014
Abbott for web.jpgORLANDO, FLA.--More than a year after she lost part of her left leg during the Boston Marathon bombings, Heather Abbott now promotes fair employment practices for people with disabilities in her job as HR compliance manager for Raytheon Inc.

“Never in a million years did I think I would become a person with a major physical disability at the age of 38,” Abbott told those attending the June 22 opening general session at the 2014 Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Annual Conference & Exposition. “And because of what’s happened to me, I can’t help but view the importance of fairly employing people with disabilities—of making accommodations and flexible work arrangements—differently than I did when I was fully able-bodied.”

Abbott, now 39, a Newport, R.I., resident and longtime SHRM member, walked onstage at the Orange County Convention Center, in a smart black dress with a hemline at the knees, so gracefully that one might never know that an explosion in the 2013 bombings sent shrapnel through the lower part of her left leg. Days after the blast, surgeons amputated her severely injured foot and ankle.

Several of Abbott’s friends and colleagues, including her SHRM friends in Rhode Island, raised money to help cover medical bills for her expensive, high-tech prosthetic legs. Today she has four prosthetics: one for walking with a flat shoe; a waterproof leg for showering and swimming; another for wearing high heels; and a fourth for running (she ran a half-mile of this year’s Boston Marathon).

Now an amputee counselor certified with the American Amputee Coalition, Abbott walks into hospital rooms carrying her “leg bag.”

When she pulls out her “high heel leg” and female amputees recognize “the possibility they may get a piece of their lives back, their faces light up,” Abbott said.

As HR professionals, Abbott said, “we must be change agents for our organizations—the ones who embrace that which is new or different. Doing so can fundamentally change not just one life, but the future of all those who depend on what we do for a living.”

Dana Wilkie is online editor/manager for SHRM.

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