Darren Brehm remembers what it is like to look up at the corporate ladder and feel like even the bottom rung is out of reach from your wheelchair. In 2002, nine years after a rollover car accident made him a C4-5 quad, Brehm had adjusted, gotten married, started a business and graduated from college. Yet still, he didn’t see a way to start climbing.
“I had very low self-esteem regarding my spinal cord injury as far as how do I apply for a job,” he says. When do you tell employers you are in a wheelchair? What accommodations do you ask for? Are they really equal opportunity employers? What if my disability scares them away? The questions raced through his head. “I found myself wondering, ‘How am I going to be successful in a corporate environment?’”
He started his climb with a job at Boeing in 2002 and hasn’t looked back since. He went on to graduate from Harvard Business School, work at one of the world’s most demanding consulting firms and currently works for one of America’s largest grocery manufacturers, all while raising a family. He’s learned how to thrive in the corporate system while overcoming the obstacles a spinal cord injury can present. The philosophy that has helped him succeed is pretty straightforward. “I don’t identify myself as a quad or anything like that. I’m just Darren, a guy that had a spinal cord injury a long time ago … I’m going to work really hard and I’m going to try to be the same guy I was, just sitting down now.”
Finding His Niche, Making a Mark
Brehm’s injury in 1993 forced him to withdraw from San Diego State following his sophomore year, but it didn’t dampen his natural entrepreneurial tendencies. He mastered working with computers and got into building and repairing them