The Marion Chronicle-Tribune has begun publishing a monthly column on disability awareness issues that will be written by Carey Services’ staff members. The first column, which appeared Oct. 17, was on National Disability Employment Awareness Month. It is published here in its entirety.
Sally has dreams, not unlike most people. She wants a job where she can make money. She wants to be able to hang out with her friends. She wants a place of her own in which to live. She wants to be like any other person living in central Indiana.
Sounds reasonable, right?
Well, Sally has a disability. That adds some layers to the story.
While, admittedly, we have made tremendous progress in the ways we interact with people with disabilities, we still have a ways to go. One of the ways we work on making additional progress is by observing National Disability Employment Awareness Month each October.
According to the 2013 American Community Survey, nearly 39.2 million people in the United States have a disability. Of that total, more than 902,000 are in Indiana. That Indiana number represents 13.9 percent of the state’s population of roughly 6.5 million people.
That same study showed that the employment rate — the rate of people actually working — for non-institutionalized working-age people in Indiana ages 21-64 without disabilities was 78.3 percent. For people with disabilities, the employment rate was only 35.1 percent. The ACS doesn’t specifically break out developmental disabilities, but other studies show that employment rate was less than 20 percent.
Ask anyone who works in social services to rank factors that impact someone’s life and employment always will be high on the list. It sounds rather obvious, but work plays a huge role not only in survival, but also in self-esteem and in many other ways that contribute to one’s overall quality of life.
Sally wants to work. That she might have limited skills doesn’t need to be the issue some people make it out to be. What is important to remember is that she does have skills. She can be productive and produce high-quality work. She can contribute to her community; she wants to contribute to her community.
It’s a powerful word. By definition, it speaks of people coming together for a purpose bigger than themselves.
National Disability Employment Awareness Month is one of those big-picture community things. This is the 70th annual observance of the month dedicated to raising awareness – and creating more opportunities – for people with disabilities who want to work.
To make employment actually work for people with disabilities, we truly need the community. We need people with disabilities to work in the community. We need employers who are willing to think creatively about how they can employ those job seekers. We need caregivers, parents and guardians who are willing to provide the support needed to help their loved one succeed. We need the professionals who work in the disabilities field to think creatively about how we can create and sustain these opportunities.
Which brings us back to Sally. (By the way, Sally’s name isn’t real here, but the situation is.)
Sally recently started a community job working about 12 hours a week. The employer typically needs employees to be flexible with schedules but did make an accommodation to keep those 12 hours within the same two days each week so transportation and other supports could be coordinated. You see, while Sally wants to work and has marketable skills, her disability does mean she needs some accommodations to help her be successful. That’s not uncommon.
People are supporting Sally in her efforts to get to work, in learning her job tasks, in learning how to navigate the world that most of us take for granted. Sally’s family has changed through this process. At first, they were fearful of Sally working in the community and against the idea. As Sally continued to increase her desire to get a job, family members slowly warmed to the idea. Now, a family member occasionally helps get Sally back and forth from work as schedules permit.
Employer attitudes are changing. More and more, they are seeing the benefits of hiring people with skills instead of just saying an automatic no to people with disabilities. People in the community are realizing that people with disabilities are people, first and foremost.
Big deal, you might say.
Well, it is to Sally and other people with disabilities who want nothing more than to be included in their communities. Wouldn’t you want the same for someone you loved?