Personal Story

Impact feature issue on Retirement & Aging for People with Intellectual, Developmental, and Other Disabilities

Disability, Equality, & Retirement


Poppy Sundquist is a teaching assistant, self-advocate, and a member of the board of directors for The Arc Minnesota. She lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Asian American woman looking at the camera smiling. She has long dark hair pulled back into a pony tail and bangs, she is wearing a maroon polo shirt and red glasses.

Poppy Sundquist has started thinking about retirement.

I am grateful to be a part of this conversation around disability and retirement. From my perspective, it’s a conversation we need to have sooner rather than later in regards to discussion, planning, and execution.

I’m 44 years old and identify as a queer individual, using pronouns she/they. I was born in South Korea and identify as a Korean-American. I grew up in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota called Arden Hills. I currently live in St. Paul. In my free time, I enjoy staying active by working out and running seven miles daily. I have been a martial artist for more than 20 years with Soo Bahk Do and I practice yoga through Mind Body Solutions. For the last three years, I have been a volunteer instructor for the martial arts program at Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute. I have also been involved with an organization called We Love To Play. It is a non-profit that provides recreational opportunities for adults with disabilities to participate in adapted soccer, adapted floor hockey, and adapted softball (whiffleball). The last three years I have had the opportunity to be vice president with We Love To Play. Through The Arc Minnesota, I have been involved in self-advocacy in many ways. I serve on the board of The Arc Minnesota, participating on its Self-Advocacy Advisory Committee (SAAC), and its Calling All Self-Advocates (CASA) events. I also enjoy cooking, baking, reading, and spending time with family and friends.

Outside of all my activities, I work as a teaching assistant at St. Paul Public Schools District 625. I have been with the district for 21 years. As a teaching assistant, I support the classroom teacher by supporting the students. In the classroom, I help with students’ school work, classroom management, and other needs, and I help engage and support students’ learning and development. Being in education has been a lifelong goal, and I have succeeded in reaching this goal. My career has offered disability visibility in the workplace, has allowed me to engage with my community, and provided me with employment stability. I am not currently at the actual stage of retirement, but I have been planning for my retirement since the beginning of my employment with St. Paul Public Schools.

I have to admit I never thought retirement was an option for me as a person in general. In part, due to thinking that I might never reach my career goal, but also because I have a disability. It is very difficult to get out of the systemic structure of disability supports, including Social Security and other benefits needed for individuals with disabilities. I recognize for myself there is disability privilege that I have as an ambulatory person with cerebral palsy.My cerebral palsy affects every part of my body, but it primarily affects my right side. This means I have more mobility and I am able to be significantly independent, which creates more personal, environmental, and social access. This has allowed me opportunities of employment in a much easier way than many others.

Retirement, for anyone, is important to plan for. My job offers and supports employees in their retirement plans. Outside of the school’s support, I have just started the conversations with my immediate family. In my future, I would like to travel outside the United States (Paris, England, and South Korea), figure out where I would like to stay when I retire (close to family or not close to family), and navigate what I need and want. That is, having trusting, supportive, and honest friends and family, and living in a LGBTQ+ -friendly community. What is important for me is to make sure I have financial stability, security, and support for me and my family as I grow older in regards to health, physical, mental, and social well-being. I want to be able to have a relaxed and comfortable retirement, just like many other people without disabilities.

My concern for others with disabilities is financial stability and retirement opportunities. There are many individuals with disabilities who are employed but are not guaranteed or given access to a retirement plan. This will affect their ability to have financial stability for their lifetime. This is a right everyone should be allowed to access and have!