As we close out another National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), we, at the Campaign for Disability Employment (CDE) are heartened to see the many and creative ways individuals and organizations helped bring this year’s theme, “America’s Workforce: Empowering All” to life.
We were also pleased to contribute to this year’s celebration with the launch of CDE’s latest public service announcement (PSA), “Working Works.” Through the voices of four individuals, this PSA shares the many ways work empowers all, whether we have disabilities or not. It also addresses the importance of ensuring that people can remain in the workforce following injury or illness and the role employers, health care professionals and others play in helping them do so.
Among the PSA’s participants is Cal Ripken, Jr., also known as baseball’s “all-time Iron Man” because he holds the record for most consecutive Major League Baseball games played, at 2,632. Cal appears alongside his longtime athletic trainer, Richie Bancells, who supported Cal’s efforts to “stay in the game” after injuries.
We also meet Ish Escobar, a human resources professional with a defense contractor, and U.S. Army veteran with service-connected disabilities, who wanted to “keep working” upon separation from the military. Participant Bruce Goebel is a third-generation cabinetmaker who, after a machinery accident severed his right hand, worked with his family, physicians and staff so he “could come back strong” when ready. Last, but not least, we have Chanelle Houston, a research analyst who returned to work following a spinal cord injury with strong support from colleagues and her health care team. Chanelle appears alongside occupational therapist, Christine Crawford, and with her company’s President and CEO, Kevin Beverly.
These individuals’ experiences clearly illustrate the value of retaining the talents of people following injury or illness. Not everyone is fortunate to have the support they did, however. For a variety of complex reasons, each year millions of Americans leave the workforce after injury or illness, to their detriment and that of their families, their employers and our nation.
At its most basic level, work is a matter of livelihood. It’s how we all earn a living and provide for our families. But, for many, it’s about more than that. It’s also about contributing our skills and experience, following a passion or being part of something larger than ourselves. It empowers all, on multiple levels—every day of every month.
About the Campaign for Disability Employment
The Campaign for Disability Employment (CDE) is a collaborative effort among several disability and business organizations committed to changing attitudes about disability and employment. It is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy. “Working Works” is the CDE’s fourth in a series of PSAs exploring different aspects of disability employment. To access these PSAs and learn more about the CDE, visit www.WhatCanYouDoCampaign.org.
Every day, many people apply for jobs they are interested in, and many are lucky enough to get them. Often though, people with a disability are not lucky enough to even be considered for jobs they might like and be good at because they might not be able to do every single part of a job description. That is where Customized Employment comes in.
My name is Brian Salewski, and my disability is on the autism spectrum. I recently had the opportunity to read a statement at a Department of Labor forum in Washington, D.C. about my experiences trying to get a paying job over the past 12 years, because the successful use of Customized Employment finally helped me to get the kind of job I wanted.
I graduated from Montgomery County MD Public Schools Special Education programs at age 21 with a certificate. During my high school and through graduation, I received job training that included office skills, such as data entry, filing, and bulk mailing, as well as other office skills, which I enjoyed. When my family and I picked a service provider agency to help me find employment, we made it clear that my first choice would be to get a job as an office assistant.
Through many years with this agency, I worked pretty much full-time, 9:00-4:00, five days a week at two different locations, but always as a volunteer. I performed various jobs such as pick-up and delivery of lab samples, making visitor badges, doing data entry for the cafeteria, recording everyone’s hours for Volunteer Services, copying, escorting patients, delivering items to hospital wards, and other jobs as assigned. I was happy to have a position that kept me busy all week, but I always reminded my job developers that I wanted a paying job.
Despite making my wishes clear, I was offered very few interviews for paying jobs over several years. Instead of working on job skills that would help me get the kind of job I wanted, I was sent to dust shelves and even to rake leaves at a farm…even though the goals on my annual review specifically said I should be training for an office job. At one point, I agreed to study to become a library page. I passed the test twice, but I wasn’t set up with interviews at libraries, even though that still was a formal goal on my annual review.
I switched agencies last August because my parents and I were very frustrated with the total lack of progress toward my goals. My new agency seemed to listen to us much more. We talked about many job possibilities, but they understood that my real goal was getting a job as an office assistant. At the new agency, I worked on computers, practiced interview skills, attended practice sessions about how to converse in an office, and how to speak to a supervisor if I had questions or needs. I liked that I was working on skills that might help me get the kind of job I wanted.
This agency used Customized Employment to help prepare me for that. After only four months, the opportunity came up for me to interview for an office assistant position. My job developer helped me apply. I practiced interview skills with staff and even brought home sample questions so I could practice at home. I was called for an interview at the Finance Department of Montgomery County Health and Human Services, which also used Customized Employment to create a job opportunity for a person with a disability….like me. I was asked back for a second interview and got the job, which I began the first week of February — only six months from the time I joined my new agency. That’s quite a difference from 12 years with no Customized Employment and no job offers!
At my job, I do archiving, make copies, do filing, move boxes, and I learned to scan documents. I hope to learn other new skills and am willing and able to try anything. I have an excellent memory, am very reliable and responsible, and learn very quickly, but somehow it still took over 12 years for me to get a paying job. All I needed was a chance and the right match, and I am so happy that I finally got that.
I like the people I work with, the jobs I do, having responsibility and working independently. Best of all, I like that I have a paying job and feel very proud when I print out my pay slip every two weeks. I received travel training, which only took one trip for me to learn, and I get to and from work independently on the bus. I have had to wait a long time for the kind of job I wanted and always knew I could do, and I am very happy to have this position. Customized Employment is described as a “win-win” situation; it helped me get a job I love, and my employer got a person who can do a specific job very well, if I say so myself. You can’t beat that!
Brian Salewski is a 35-year old life-long resident of Montgomery County MD. Prior to beginning his current job, which is part-time, he volunteered full-time, five days a week; first at Brooke Grove Retirement Community in Sandy Spring, MD; then at MedStar Montgomery Medical Center in Olney, MD, where he still volunteers two days a week. Brian has an active lifestyle, participating in softball, tennis and basketball for Montgomery County MD Special Olympics. His softball and basketball teams have both won several state gold medals, and he has twice participated in Special Olympics USA Games and won gold medals in traditional men’s tennis and doubles tennis both times. Brian belongs to a weekly bowling group and an organized social group in which he goes to plays, dances, bingo nights, etc. He also participates in weekly social activities with his service provider agency. Brian takes guitar lessons, loves amusement parks, the beach, movies, and going to Nationals baseball games. He lives at home with his parents and his twin brother in Olney, MD.
July 26th is the 28th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a civil rights law aimed at bringing people with disabilities from the shadows to fully participate in society. This anniversary provides an opportunity to think about where we’ve been and how far we still have to go.
When my brother, Evan, was born with Down syndrome almost 40 years ago and a decade before the ADA, expectations for people with disabilities were abysmally low. Doctors said that Evan would never learn, hold a job, or participate in activities with peers and that the best option for him was an institution. My parents refused to listen and instead tirelessly advocated to create a rival image for his life. They fought to give Evan the same opportunities my sisters and I had: to participate fully in school, be a valued member of our community, and pursue fulfilling employment. Most importantly, they taught each of us to advocate for what we wanted and had the same high expectations for all of us.
Evan, like others with disabilities, often experienced discrimination based on misinformation and stereotypes. That was why we fought so hard for the ADA, a game changer in the lives of those with disabilities and their families. This civil rights law makes discrimination based on disability illegal and assures equality of opportunity, full participation and economic self-sufficiency.
Evan recently spoke about his life before a large audience at a national conference in Washington, D.C. in a speech titled “My Life and Dreams”:
I want to tell you about my life in my community and how important it is to me to be an independent man.
I graduated from Chamblee High School in the class of 2000. I was in the marching band and got to play and march at all the football games. I made a lot of friends.
Transitioning from child to adult services is very difficult. My family and I had to fight hard for what I wanted – to get a job and live independently. But laws like the ADA and Olmstead help people like me get the services I need to be successful and reach my goals.
After graduation, I started working at the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta. I have worked there for 18 years in different jobs. I now work in the Health Club. I check the clients in on the computer. I make sure the equipment is in good working order and collect used towels and fold the clean ones. Most of all, I love to talk to the many people who come to the health club. I know all their names, love greeting them, and enjoy joking with so many people.
My co-workers have become some of my best friends. They help me when I need some extra help. We eat lunch together and sometimes go out together on the weekends. I have even been the best man at my co-worker’s wedding!
I live in an apartment with a friend I chose as a roommate. I do all the things a single man does like grocery shopping, cooking and cleaning the apartment, paying my bills and managing my checkbook.
I am able to be an independent man because I get help from my Medicaid Waiver. My Medicaid Waiver provides me with needed transportation, a terrific job coach, and a personal consultant that helps me with independent living skills. I continue to learn new things that make me so proud. I receive SSDI and that, along with my paycheck and Medicaid Waiver, allow me to be independent.
I enjoy music, playing computer games, playing sports, exercising with a trainer, and hanging out with my friends. I have a girlfriend and like going out with her. I also enjoy acting and perform in a theater group.
I am proud to be a member of the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities. I attend Council meetings and get to present at national conferences. I learned how to be a self-advocate from a program called Partners in Policy Making. I have met with my elected representatives in Washington, D.C. and in Georgia. I like to follow the news and vote in every election.
My parents and sisters are happy to see me living my dreams. They tell me that these are their dreams, too.
As you can see, my life is very full. I work, live, and play in the community. My dream is to continue this healthy and useful life.
The ADA has helped make Evan’s life a reality. But we still have far to go before the ADA’s promise of community inclusion and economic independence are a reality for all people with disabilities. Thousands of people with disabilities who want to live in the community are stuck in institutions. Over 500,000 people are on waitlists for the community services they need to live meaningful lives. Most people with disabilities want to work, but less than 20 percent have a job. We can and must, do better. That’s why the Center for Public Representation and the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities are fighting so hard to expand opportunities for community living, competitive integrated employment, and inclusive education.
On this 28th anniversary of the ADA, we hope our family’s story reminds you of how far we have come and motivates you to keep advocating for progress. Look for a forthcoming article through the LEAD Center about how you can advocate for employment in your community. Happy ADA anniversary!
Alison Barkoff is the Director of Advocacy at the Center for Public Representation. She works on policy and litigation related to community integration and inclusion of people with disabilities, including Olmstead enforcement, Medicaid policy, employment, housing, and education. She is a co-chair of the Long-Term Services and Supports Task Force of the Consortium of Citizens with Disabilities and served as an appointed member of the Federal Advisory Committee for Competitive Integrated Employment of People with Disabilities. From 2010 to 2014, she served as Special Counsel for Olmstead Enforcement in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. During her time with the federal government, Ms. Barkoff also worked with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the Department of Labor on disability issues. She has previously worked at the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law and at a number of other public interest organizations on disability litigation and policy.
Evan Nodvin is a proud member of the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities as one of seven Georgia self-advocates on the Council. Evan works at the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta as a Courtesy Assistant at the Health Club at the MJCCA. He is a graduate of Partners in Policy Making, a past Buddy of the Year for the Down Syndrome Association of Atlanta, a co-chair of the Special Friends Sabbath Inclusion Program at Congregation B'nai Torah in Atlanta and a gold medal Special Olympian in Power Lifting and Bocce Ball. He graduated Chamblee High School in the class of 2000. Evan belongs to several social groups and enjoys bowling, yoga, cooking classes, dances, tennis, kickball, acting through Habima Theater and biking. He lives in an apartment with a roommate of his choice and gets supports through his Medicaid Waiver. He takes pride in speaking to small and large audiences about employment and self-advocacy.