By Lance Robertson, ACL Administrator and Assistant Secretary for Aging
Today marks the close of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). This year's NDEAM theme, "the right talent, right now," perfectly captures the many contributions people with disabilities are making to our nation's booming economy today and the potential they hold for employers willing to judge every applicant based solely on their skills and talents.
“What’s important to remember about workers with disabilities is that we’re workers,” Hocker said. “We’re contributors, we’re teammates, and we’re leaders.”
We also know that when people of all abilities have the opportunity to work, they are happier, healthier, and more financially secure. Creating pathways to competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities is truly a win-win for all of us.
This is why the Administration for Community Living (ACL) is excited to announce a competition for American business to expand their talent and diversify their workforce by including people with disabilities. The Challenge: An Inclusive Talent for Pipeline for American Businesses will offer cash prizes from a total pool of $380,000 to support rapid innovation and adopting models to help businesses improve their performance by recruiting and retaining workers with disabilities. The submission period opens on November 22 and ends on February 14, 2020.
At ACL, we are also proud to be leading a first-of-its-kind Multi-Agency Task Force on Expanding Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities. This effort is harnessing the power of 11 federal departments to identify – and eliminate – critical obstacles to employment for people with disabilities.
Earlier this year, we reached out to some of our grantees and stakeholders to ask about their experiences promoting employment. This month we have been sharing some of the stories we received. One of those stories came from Ashley.
When Ashley was 18, she had a hemorrhagic stroke, which left her unable to walk, talk, or eat. Six months after her stroke, she enrolled at a community college.
She started with one class her first semester, and it did not go well. "I fell on my face without accommodations," she recalls.
When she sought help, a vocational rehabilitation counselor questioned whether her educational and career goals were "realistic" and suggested she look into a sheltered workshop instead.
But Ashley was not ready to give up. She went back to her community college and worked with staff to obtain accommodations and find classes that fit with her rehab schedule. Her persistence paid off and she graduated with an Associate of Arts degree.
Armed with her transcript, she went back to her vocational rehabilitation counselor. Her counselor helped secure funding for her to continue her education. She earned a bachelor’s degree with a focus on both Social Work and Fitness and Wellness in 2017, and a master’s in social work in 2018. Today, she works for Missouri's Department of Mental Health where she helps connect other people with disabilities to resources.
"I am only sharing my story to let other individuals that have survived a brain injury, or that have any type of disability, know that it is possible to achieve whatever you put your mind to," she said. "There will be obstacles, but the human spirit is resilient, just keep going forward."
I cannot help but wonder how many people with disabilities, who find themselves in similar situations, end up in different situations because they don’t have access to the resources and support to help them pursue their dreams.
We have to set the bar higher.
At ACL, we are fortunate. Our staff includes people from all walks of life, with and without disabilities. That diversity of experiences makes us better, and by ensuring equal opportunity, regardless of disability, we get the right talent, right now.
NDEAM may be coming to an end, but our focus on increasing employment opportunities and expectations for people with disabilities continues every day of the year.