About six months ago I met “David” and the conversation I had with him still lingers in my mind even today…
David is unemployed. And David is frustrated.
David wants the same things that you and I want in this life. He wants to be happy, he wants friends, he wants love, he wants a job, he wants to make his own money, he wants to be included in his community, but he is struggling on how to accomplish these goals that we so often take for granted.
You see David has a developmental disability and he feels that employers are afraid to hire him because he’s “stupid.” David has put in applications at over 10 businesses in his town with no luck in securing a job. His frustration level grows with each passing day.
David loves meeting new people, he loves tools, he loves cars, and he loves helping others. He can tell you the difference between many different power tools, what is on sale this week at Home Depot and Lowes, and he can spot a Ford Mustang a mile away. His mind is sharp as a tack and his ability to carry a conversation from tools to cars to frozen yogurt is quite impressive. It was clear to me within 10 seconds of our conversation that David was anything but “stupid.”
My short time with David made me realize the systemic problem adults with developmental disabilities have in finding meaningful integrated employment. I began seeking out other adults like David and getting their input on employment opportunities on the Northshore. I had to know more.
The majority of adults I spoke to attend a day program and only a few held jobs where they were included in their community. These few adults with jobs couldn’t stop talking about how much they enjoy their job, how much they appreciate making their own money, and how much more independent they feel because of their inclusive employment. One individual stated, “I love my job because my boss believes in me and that makes me feel happy. I can’t wait to go to work each day and do a good job.”
While quite a few businesses I found do a fantastic job at regularly employing individuals with disabilities, many continually fall short. These businesses may fall short for a variety of reasons, but I believe we as a community can step up and assist them in recognizing the value in employing people of all abilities. And the time is NOW.
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). This is a national campaign that raises awareness about disability employment issues and celebrates the many and varied contributions of America’s workers with disabilities. The theme for 2017 is “Inclusion Drives Innovation.” I encourage you to look for businesses that employ people of ALL abilities and tell them thank you, showcase them on your social media, and let others businesses know that there is incredible value in integrated employment.
Every one of us has the right to work.
Every one of us has something to contribute to our communities.
Every one of us has the power to foster a disability friendly work culture where everyone is included.
“Advancing employment opportunities and expectations for people with disabilities strengthens not only America’s economy, but our moral fiber.” –Kathy Martinez