Story by María Rosa Moya, woman with disabilities, beneficiary of the Ready Women project.

Story by María Rosa Moya, woman with disabilities, beneficiary of the Ready Women project.

The smell of roses

The girl who smelled of roses has stuck in my mind. I only met her once, but it was like a pleasant oasis in the middle of a boring job.

I didn’t study psychology to do job surveys, but you have to make a living and sometimes you do things you don’t like.

It was a badly paid, temporary job for the department store X, which was opening a new shop in Andalusia, specifically in Seville, where, at that time, shopping centres were growing like mushrooms despite the crisis caused by the pandemic.

They needed highly qualified staff for the administration and there I was, listening to hundreds of people who had handed in their CVs eager to earn a living.

Admittedly, I was surprised when I saw her walk in. I wasn’t expecting anyone on that sort of trolley looking for a job, a powerchair user, so she said.

With all the interviews I had been through I thought she would be just another one and that her job prospects were at ground level. However, I had to tell her to come closer and hide my surprise.

Once at the interview table, I noticed the pleasant scent of roses, at which point I realised that I hadn’t noticed her appearance at all. My eyes had gone to her chair without seeing the person, and now the scent of roses had made me see the elegant simplicity of the girl in front of me.

I was tired of seeing candidates in suits like the old encyclopaedia salesmen and made-up candidates who looked more like they were going to a wedding than looking for a job in an inner office.

This girl, however, was wearing a simple plain blouse with matching patterned trousers. Wide, simple clothes that looked freshly ironed.

Her face was barely visible behind the glasses and mask, and her loose, shiny hair could not help but arouse a certain envy in me for her beauty. But, above all, what struck me most about her was the pleasant perfume of roses that seemed to emanate from her body. I admit that it was the detail that made me discover that, in addition to a chair, there was an interesting person in front of me.

In my hands I held the questionnaire, the questions I had asked everyone in a monotonous way and on which I had made notes. Those notes would be used by others to decide whether to give the job or not. I didn’t decide, but I could write something down clearly and concretely when someone stood out in a special way.

I asked her directly, I wanted to get straight to the point with her, she had to explain why she thought she was the right person for the job. The girl with the rose perfume looked at me without fear and said that she was perfectly qualified, as she had studied business management and administration. In addition, she had taken several courses because she liked to be active and to keep her knowledge up to date. She made it clear to me that she was willing to learn whatever was necessary.

I took a look at her CV and saw that, like almost everyone else, she said she knew English. Actually, language skills were not the most important thing for the job he had to do, but in this society, knowing English is always a plus. So I asked him what level of English he had. He replied that he could think in English. That pleased me because in a few words he had told me that he really had it under control, but I wanted to know with more certainty. So I decided that the rest of the conversation would be in English and I let him know. He didn’t seem to be scared, I think he even smiled, which I can’t tell because of the masks that at the time hid my face from all the candidates.

I also asked her if she spoke any other languages. She said only Catalan, but that she hadn’t put it on her CV because she thought it was not very useful in Seville. I have to admit that she was right, but I put it down as something in her favour because the more languages you speak, the more fluent you will be in a group of people. It’s a psychological effect. That girl began to interest me more and more.

I remembered that we had to select at least a couple of people with disabilities. We had to comply with the legal quota. I had thought of someone with a minor disability, but it had not even occurred to me that a girl in a motorised wheelchair would come to me.

Another obligatory question, and one where I think people lie a lot, is that of hobbies. Surprisingly, they all tell you that they are fond of reading, music, culture in general and sport. You can tell that they give you prepared answers from the academy to make themselves look good, so I never rate them either positively or negatively.

This girl said directly that she read a lot in her spare time and that she did crossword puzzles. I wanted to check her veracity, because I was beginning to feel real sympathy for this rose-smelling girl who always looked at my face. Her eyes told me that, at least in appearance, she was sincere.

I asked him what he usually read, and he surprised me. He told me essays, novels and children’s literature. He seemed to like the question, because he answered as if he was happy to talk about it. The children’s literature was very surprising to me and I let him know about it. She happily told me that the books for children nowadays are not like those of the past, and that she prefers little girls who dream of the princess dressed in paper, not Cinderella or Snow White. I gave her the floor to continue talking, but she seemed to hesitate about whether or not to do so. Finally, she asked me if I had read ‘The Princess in a Paper Bag’. After she had done so, I noticed that she was sorry she had asked. In fact, she apologised and told me that her main fault was that she talked too much and that she was not the one who had to ask the questions. Although she regretted it, her mistake was very useful to me. I had been curious that a grown-up girl should be interested in children’s literature. It’s not a frequent occurrence, so I wrote down the title. I asked her about an essay book she had read. I don’t know if I really meant to put her between a rock and a hard place or if it was curiosity about what the girl was reading. Minorities: stories of inequality and courage’, she said. I made a note of the book. I wrote it down in the interview, but admittedly I also consulted it later and have read both books. Maybe the way I see things as a white, non-disabled woman has changed a little bit after the second reading.

Could that rose-smelling girl really do the job she was applying for? I was very clear and told her that I could see her hands were slow to operate a computer. But she didn’t flinch from that. He told me that he handled computers perfectly well, though admittedly not very fast, but that he works better with his computer because he has a support programme. She commented that it would be interesting if, if she was given the job, this programme could be installed on the computer where she had to be.

We talked about many things. Among them, working hours, salary and availability for changes. She wasn’t afraid to talk about her limitations, but I wasn’t really seeing anything that would prevent her from doing the job for which she had applied.

When I asked her about it, she didn’t hesitate to tell me that a split day or an evening shift is much harder for her, as it is too much time on a chair. But the offer was for a morning job. The morning hours were the hours that the rose-scented girl felt she performed best and best.

The moment I asked her about her availability to work outside Seville I realised that I was asking too many questions. They did not correspond to the questionnaire for the post she was applying for, but I don’t know why I seemed to be bent on discovering her limitations.

I began to see her getting a bit overwhelmed. This plainly dressed, rose-scented, fully qualified girl might not be available for job reassignments. I watched as she took a breath and answered honestly. She told me that it would take some time to change locations, as she would have to find a house that suited her needs, and a person who could act as her personal assistant. I noticed the smell of roses again and something made me regret that question. I didn’t take note of the answer, it wasn’t even a question on the questionnaire, as what was wanted was a person to work in Seville city.

I also asked him if he had come with his own vehicle. Here his answer was quicker and calmer. He used public transport, which allowed him to move around the city and is also more environmentally friendly than using a private vehicle. I guessed that he couldn’t drive, but I didn’t ask him. She had arrived at the interview on time, and that is what would matter to the company, whether she arrived on foot, by car or by bicycle. I could even say that he could have arrived by balloon or helicopter. The management didn’t care as long as I was on time.

The rose-scented woman seemed a perfect candidate for the job: she had the necessary knowledge, she was polite, she looked nice and she could fill one of the positions reserved for people with disabilities. But, I think she knew there was something that didn’t convince me.

I don’t know how she did it, but she took advantage of something I said to tell me that in the trial month they could see if her job was really what they wanted.

I must have ended the interview there and given a positive report. That rose-smelling girl was right, there was nothing better than a trial period to find out how good a worker she was.

However, I still had to ask the macho questions that we always get in the way. So I asked him if he had a partner and if he was planning to have children. I was shocked. He replied that he was with a wonderful girl, and that for the moment they had not planned their future until they knew whether they were going to have children or not, but that his private life had nothing to do with his performance at work.

The rose-scented girl had just given me another psychological slap in the face. I found out that I had meddled where I shouldn’t have, and that I had asked a question that could have cost anyone else their job for such sincerity. But I was finally won over. Now I was sure. Someone who was so brave in her answers deserved to be taken into account in any company. I did the best report I could. They never told me if she was hired, but every time I smell roses I remember that girl who doesn’t deserve to live in a disabled world.

Projects such as Ready Women help to empower women with disabilities and provide them with opportunities to access employment.

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