Personal Story

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

I Know I’ve Helped the World

Authors

Jeff Smith worked for 43 years as a senior mail clerk at Arkema, a French specialty materials company, before retiring in 2020. In 2017, he testified before a U.S. Senate hearing on working and aging with disabilities. He lives independently near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with weekly support from Judith Creed Horizons for Achieving Independence.

A caucasian man with dark hair and glasses wearing flip flops, khaki pants and a light blue collared shirt walks down a sidewalk littered with fallen leaves.

Now retired, Jeff Smith still enjoys walking into town most days.

Forty-three years working at my job. That’s a lot of days, right there. When I retired, I got a very descriptive letter thanking me for my energy and positive attitude over the years. I also got a nice wristwatch.

A few years ago, I had the inclination it was time to retire, and I just knew the time was coming. I was getting tired, and my legs were getting tired. I had worked dreadfully hard as a senior mail clerk. Our office was a square mile and I walked 20 miles a day, going from building to building. I worked different schedules over the years, starting at 7 a.m. or 8 a.m., getting home around 5.

It was my job to keep getting up in the morning and going to work. Each day, I would think of ideas for our company to be better. We had people all over the world, and it got me interested in learning what was going on internationally. Over the years, I came to feel that I know I’ve helped the world by helping the people at my company. Listening to the news lately, I worry about the way people want to leave their jobs today and don’t want to work.

I earned a pension from my work, and qualified for Social Security, and I of course realize what an achievement that is. To be able to live independently and pay my own water bill, my own electricity bill, I think constantly about how lucky I am that I forged ahead in a good way. And that is shining on my face now.

A man with dark hair and glasses wearing a business suit, white shirt and tie speaks at a microphone to give testimony.

View Jeff’s testimony  at a U.S. Senate hearing.

Walking is still big for me and I walk to the bank, the pharmacy, and to other places in town. It’s so much better than taking a car because it doesn’t cost money and you don’t have to worry about finding a place to park. I also volunteer when I can. My mom is 97 and in a nursing home, so I haven’t been able to see her much because of the pandemic. I’m close with my brother, Charles, though, and he helps me with my financial decisions. I collect coins and rocks. I have some coins that are 99 percent pure silver and they’re quite old. It’s something to keep my mind rolling.

Looking ahead to the future, I’m planning to move to a retirement community due to some mobility issues, but I still plan to get out to exercise, travel, and have fun being with people. I’d also like to find a girlfriend and have a relationship in the future.

My advice to other people who are working in the community is to keep going as long as you can and don’t let down because once you do, it’s bad. A lot of pain comes from too much sitting in chairs and not getting enough exercise.

For me, I just don’t want to be a stick in the mud. The world has been good to me, and I want to be of help to the world.

Working and Aging with Disabilities: From School to Retirement

Watch Jeff Smith deliver testimony to a special committee on aging about his career and his life.