I Have One Hand And I Worked At Starbucks

February 18, 2012 — 32 Comments

Perhaps you saw the recent story about Eli Pierre being denied a job at Starbucks because he has one arm.

Obviously, the situation caught my attention.

As I’ve written before, I’m pretty lenient when it comes to peoples’ reactions to me; including their stares.  But, I think it’s safe to say that I would have handled this situation, uh, considerably more undignified than Eli did.  Things would have been thrown.  Names would have been called.

I hesitate, though, to be angry with Starbucks as a whole.  It sounds like the onus here is smack dab on the hiring manager.  It amazes me that this thought process actually exists.  And I use the word “process” loosely.

I also have a deeper connection to the story because 11 years ago I was a barista at Starbucks.  This was before everything was automated, too.  I ground the beans and loaded the hoppers and tamped and pulled shots and pumped syrup…I did it all, baby.  And I was good at it.  My manager, the guy who hired me, was a big, bald, hilarious gay guy with a sun tattoo on his calf.  He did not discriminate against me, nor did Starbucks against him.  I enjoyed my co-workers and recall my time there fondly.

This is not me.

Remembering my stint at Starbucks got me thinking about the other jobs I’ve had over the years.  I had to laugh at the irony of some of them.  My first job was at ACE Hardware.  I carried bags of softener salt, cut keys and glass, bagged nuts and bolts and countless other manual tasks.  I also worked at Eddie Bauer in the Mall of America for a while where I had to fold clothes every shift.  Then there was the job I had processing donations for a non-profit.  I opened envelopes, sorted papers and entered data into a computer every day.  There was also the time I worked at a shoe store, carrying and stacking boxes and tying shoes for customers.  Oh, and I went to school for radio and then worked at a station for a while where I spliced tape, ran the board for various programs and performed on-air while producing.

As you can see, there was a lot of room in each of those jobs for me to feel like I couldn’t do things with only one hand.  And a lot of opportunity for other people to think I couldn’t.  Very rarely, though, was my arm ever brought-up.  In fact, the only times I can remember were when I worked at the hardware store and my concerned boss just wanted to make sure I was ok.  Other than that, it was smooth sailing.

That’s why Eli’s story boggles my mind.  As I’m sure it boggled his while it was happening.  The closest I came to something like this was when I was being helped by the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation and my counselor suggested I get a prosthetic arm, “just for aesthetic reasons. You know, to help in interviews and that sort of thing.”  I was furious.  I told him that if someone didn’t want to hire me because of my arm, besides being illegal, it was their loss.  And I wouldn’t want to work for them anyway.  He seemed satisfied with that answer.  Not like he had a choice.

And as bad as that was, it’s a far cry from what Eli experienced.

So, what do we learn from this?  We learn that ignorance, bigotry, and insensitivity are alive and well.  If you’re black, asian, short, tall, blind, deaf, wheelchair bound, limb-different, speak with a lisp…basically, if you’re different in any noticeable way, you are already familiar with this fact.

I do believe, though, that this is the exception and not the rule.  I believe whole-heartedly that most people desire to treat others with respect and dignity.  Even when they are unsure of how to react to someone who is different, I believe the majority are trying their best to do the right thing.  To look those who are different in the eye, to not stare, to ask questions respectfully, to accept.

And when those of us who are different encounter the person who hasn’t come around yet, like Eli did, we have a choice.  We can let it beat us and bruise us.  We can let it send us into a tailspin.  We can let it harden our heart.  We can allow it to shape our thinking about everyone.

Or, we can bring it to the light.  We can use it to educate and illuminate.  We can become stronger by pushing through it.  We can stand-up for those who are different and invite those who aren’t to do the same.

We can overcome.


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I'm a husband, a father, an author, a speaker, a friend...all kinds of things, actually.

32 responses to I Have One Hand And I Worked At Starbucks

  1. Another great post Ryan! I’ve also had all sorts of jobs – including a stin as a barista during law school – and have never had a problem. The only time I remember being discriminated against because I don’t have a hand was from an army recruiter. I was a senior in high school and I kept getting calls to meet with him because of my grades and extracurricular involvement. I finally set a time and date and then asked, “Now it doesn’t matter to you or our military that don’t have a left hand, right? I mean we all know you called me because of academics so this shouldn’t be a problem, right?”

    Looking back, might not have been the most graceful way to handle that situation cause I could have heard a pin drop… Followed by a lot of stammering and apologizing. 🙂

    • That’s an amazing story, Kiki! I remember one time my wife said something along the lines of, “I’m so glad you only have one hand because they can’t draft you to go to war, right?” Ahh, the benefits of limb differences! hehe Thanks for sharing, Kiki!

  2. I have to add this. The only time I was turned down anything was the army. He told me no because I was handicap or disabled. Wrong.. I am not handicap or disable enough to draw a disability check.. I have to be missing 6 fingers. So which is it ? Am I handicap or not. Our government needs to make up their minds so I will know what I am..

  3. Katie Kolberg Memmel February 18, 2012 at 11:58 am

    Ryan – excellent blog! Your last paragraph rocks. That’s been my philosophy as well. Educate and illuminate… I admit that it’s crossed my mind sometimes that there’s been discrimination in the ‘arm’ department. But it’s probably very hard to prove (unless they come right out and admit it). Thanks for sharing some of your history – I didn’t know you’d been in radio. Cool!
    Kili – My son was born missing part of his left arm (similar to Ryan’s) and when the military called for him, I asked them on the phone. I said, “My son was born missing part of his arm. Will the military accept this?” And they told me no. I figured it was probably best just to ask… my son was actually mildly interested in that lifestyle, but they reject people for much less physical differences than this, so I figured ‘no’ would be the answer. But I understood that whole thing. Starbucks? Really? I think Ryan’s right – it was just the person hiring that day. We all know that people with limb differences can do anything they need/want/ put their minds to. Am I right??? Take care. 🙂

  4. thumbs up. (thumb up!)

  5. Wow! I never realized how much your arm was a non-issue to me until I read this post, Ryan. I remember all of your jobs and listening to you on the radio and it would never have occurred to me to even think about your arm or whether it would affect your job. Your wisdom in this post really touched my heart. You’re awesome!

  6. Hi Ryan!

    I too was born with one hand and blog about it. Your site is great! I just added it to the “links i love” section of my sidebar.


    Caitlin 🙂

  7. Brilliant and so perceptive, Ryan

    ***** plus

  8. OH my love reading your post as always so funny in the beginning you calling names and throwing things I was imagining that good laughs 🙂

  9. I have one arm and can totally understand this, I’ve had for arm for almost 22yrs and have been denied a lot of job opportunities including serving my country in the military. I was told I could not serve because I have one arm(disabled), but I cannot collect disability because government says I’m not. Employers dont give disables a shot and something needs to change

    • Thank you for sharing, Steven. That IS an interesting point. The government says you cannot serve because you are disabled, and yet the same government doesn’t consider you disabled when it comes to disability benefits. I can understand why that’s really frustrating.

  10. I have had a similar situation as well when trying to apply to McDonald’s lol. But yea im 19 years old and I have my right arm that didn’t really finish forming into a hand so it left me with like 2 fingers. But my left hand is fine though. I was able to get a job at sea world and noone really seems to notice anything. Reading your post seems to give me some pride in who I am now and I thank you for giving me inspiration. Who needs McDonald’s anyway, their loss I got a better job ;P

  11. Thank you so much for this! I haven’t been able to use my left hand since birth and I’ve always found ways around it and have been able to do most things that people with both their hands can do. And I’ve wanted to be an ultrasound technician for quite some time and I thought I would be able to with my one hand like most things, but in order to even get into a school for it, you have to pass the physical requirements. And one of the main things you have to be able to do is have full use of both hands.So I’ve been really discouraged because I graduate in May and now I have no idea what I’m going to do. But this post really inspired me and I’m excited to start looking for another career option! 🙂

  12. A great post Ryan. I have great admiration for you!

  13. It is amazing to me that things like this still happen. Luckily I agree with you Ryan that it is the exception. Trinity’s comment reminded me of something I saw through the Helping Hands website a while ago. It is a You Tube video about one woman’s challange getting through a nursing program (not because of one hand but because of those who yet needed to be educated in other ways). It may be helpful and maybe you have already seen it but here is the link. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9h8y9WICHu4. It is possible that someone at Helping Hands knows her but I am not sure.

  14. Just found your post randomly out of curiosity of what my 12 year old could focus on for a job later in life and your post is amazing. Thank you for sharing your experience and wisdom.


  15. I’m both a one-handed person and a wheelchir user, I’ve been using a powered chair for a while but I’m about to take delivery of my first one-handed manual chair, which is a bit of a niche product but thanks to the good old NHS will be provided and delivered free of charge. I know how much you like to keep up with language around disability Ryan so I’d like to explain to you the difference between ‘wheelchair-bound’ and ‘wheelchair-user’. The former incorporates notions of being tied to the wheelchair, incapable of doing anything other than being a passive recipient of care. The latter is a much more empowerng term wereby the individual makes use of a wheelchair to facilitate his/her own mobility. I’m definitely the latter, I will not be ‘bound’ to my chair, other than possibly in certain NSFW scenrios.

  16. This makes me sad. I hate thinking that my hand may make getting a job even more difficult for me. It sucks that people can discriminate against your abilities before they even know you. I don’t have trouble doing anything, yet people still just assume and it’s unfair. I’ve had this experience only once so far applying for a cashier at a cupcake shop (the lady didn’t think I’d be able to fold boxes with one hand.. seriously? Ugh, you press and fold- I could do that with no hands.) and then also with the military like other people have mentioned but I had 0% interest in that so that was kind of a nice way to get them to stop calling me. 😉 ha but still it’s really frustrating. It’s hard enough mentally preparing for a job interview and all that, let alone having people judge your capabilities by your appearance.

  17. I was just wondering how long you worked there? I am in a similar situation and am developing tendon problems now in my good arm ( my right arm doesn’t move very much and is still attached). Are there any uneducated jobs you’ve had that was not a fast paced environment that required you to overexert/ constantly move your good arm to keep up? Please email me back 🙂

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