October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month! Throughout the month, organizations across the United States highlight the invaluable contributions the disability community makes to the American workforce.
In honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, we spoke to John Kippen, who views his disability as his superpower. John, 56, an accomplished magician who performs at the Magic Castle in Los Angeles, developed facial paralysis and deafness in his left ear after surgery for a brain tumor. He spoke to us about his unique career path and the importance of self-acceptance.
Q: How did you begin a career as a magician and public speaker?
My first introduction to magic was from my uncle when I was a kid. I loved being able to figure out how magic tricks worked and the mechanisms behind them. In high school, I even had the opportunity to work in a magic shop.
The aftermath of my surgery left me with severe depression and anxiety about going back into the world. I practiced my act for months before getting approval to begin performing at the Magic Castle. At first, it was a challenge because I was still struggling with my self-image after the surgery. I felt like I was lacking the confidence in myself that I needed to perform. I was fortunate to get a lot of support from fellow magicians. They gave me the opportunity to perform in short segments, and the short segments gave me the confidence to do shows of my own. I needed to take the first step to perform and prove to myself that I was able to do the job. Since 2006, I’ve done thousands of magic shows and speaking gigs, including a TEDx event.
Q: Since you’ve been performing and speaking in public, have you seen people’s attitudes towards disability change?
Absolutely. I can see the audience’s curiosity about my facial paralysis when I begin my act, so over time I’ve learned to incorporate it within my introduction. In fact, I tell the story of my surgery as the source of my magical skills. At that moment, my disability becomes my superpower. As my act goes on, the audience’s curiosity shifts from my facial paralysis to my skill set.
For me, being able to confidently perform and showcase my passion for the magical arts transformed people’s perception of me. I went from being viewed disability-first to being appreciated for my passion. Having the opportunity to tell my story helps transform people’s understanding of disability and ultimately, themselves.
Through my years performing, I’ve been able to connect with audience members in a personal way. I’ve had audience members tell me that I gave them the courage not to hide anymore or to keep going during difficult times. One of the best parts of performing is giving the audience the opportunity to not only see the magic but feel it, too.
Q: What advice would you give to an individual with a disability looking to enter into the workforce?
Have confidence that you are able to fulfill the job requirements, even if you may have to go about them in a different way. Review your job description and have candid conversations with your supervisor about the tasks that you know you can accomplish and tasks that you may need assistance with. At the end of the day, accepting yourself and feeling confident in your abilities will help you advocate for what you need in the workplace.
Q: What is your hope for people with a disability?
My hope is that people with a disability have the courage to show up as themselves. I hid for a long time, from photos, from the world. It wasn’t until I accepted myself that I was able to pursue what I loved. I hope that everyone – with or without a disability – is able to experience the freedom of self-acceptance.