Mike Shultz, a former early intervention student, who attended preschool at ELBS, went on to graduate from Central High and has been employed at Plastek for one year recently shared his journey to employment. A dream come true! He is proof of what “Because We Are EQUAL to the Task,” the 2013 theme of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, echos and what individuals with disabilities already know: They are capable employees and successful in the workplace when provided an opportunity.
Yesterday, as I stood in the Forum of the BNI, I was privileged to witness the powerful impact of what the opportunity of employment means to Mike, other employed adults and the community businesses hiring them.
The room was filled with parents, supporters, staff members, adults currently employed in the community and those participating in our Transitional Work Service program (TWS) who are in training for employment.
Each individual employed accepted an award, shared where they worked and for how long. Some of them read a letter encouraging the TWS adults by showing how it felt when they were hired for their first job. They shared how they were afraid at first, grew more confident as their job coach helped them learn the job and how much they are enjoying it now. Hearing their stories I could see the pride and self-confidence shine within each of them. What a moving experience!
The glowing letters of commendation from the companies’ owners were inspiring. Pizza Hut, Wendy’s, Plastek Group and Bello’s Market were a few of the companies recognized for their outstanding employment practices in hiring persons with disabilities. A tribute to them and our community!
What first began as a week of celebration expanded to the entire month of October now called National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) sponsored by Office of Disability and Employment. For the past 60 years the movement has grown due in large part to advocacy from individuals, parents, communities and state and Federal organizations to make certain that individuals with disabilities have the same opportunity as those without.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2012 that 17.8 percent of persons with a disability were employed in the United States. In contrast, the employment-population ratio for persons without a disability was 63.9 percent. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is 14.1 percent, double that of people without disabilities.
This is why we recognize NDEAM and continue our advocacy efforts. You too can join the movement. With courage, creativity and a willingness to value each person, employers can lead the charge in opening new doors for persons with disabilities.
I challenge you to reach out to others with this message. It’s as simple as tweeting:
- “National Disability Employment Awareness Month, what can you do?”
- “Because we are EQUAL to the task #NDEAM”
- “Erie, celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month by retweeting this message!”
- “Do you believe we are all EQUAL? Celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness by retweeting!”
- “A strong workforce is an inclusive workforce. What can you do?”