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.
Since 2014, LADDER (Louisville Alliance for Development through Diversity Empowerment and Resources) supports opportunities to integrate financial empowerment in workforce development systems to insure the inclusivity of persons with disabilities in accessing empowerment opportunties, and seeks to establish a community-wide culture of inclusiveness.
Data makes it abundantly clear that individuals with disabilities face significantly more barriers than other members of the population when it comes to financial stability and equality. In fact, households with members with a disability are twice as likely as households without a disability to have incomes below the federal poverty line (2016 American Community Survey). Furthermore, individuals with disabilities are also twice as likely to be unemployed compared to their able-bodied counterparts in the same demographic range (2016 American Community Survey). The lack of employment prospects and low wages that have become the norm for those living with disabilities makes every day financial challenges an incredibly difficult task. With lower incomes and lower employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities, millions of Americans with disabilities are stuck in a cycle of poverty.
The 2018 Scorecard released by Prosperity Now reports some stunning state-level data: 26.7 percent of all Kentucky households with a member with a disability live below the federal poverty threshold; and 52.8 percent of all Kentucky households with adults with disabilities live in liquid asset poverty, meaning that more than half of households with adults with disabilities do not have enough money to weather a significant emergency. These statistics clearly identify a need. In effort to address these challenges, LADDER developed and launched a pilot program to address the asset building challenges associated with Louisville residents with disabilities.
In 2016, LADDER, through Louisville Metro Office of Resilience and Community Services along with agency partners Goodwill Industries, Center for Accessible Living and the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, implemented a pilot program, LABS (LADDER Asset Building Strategies), designed to increase the overall financial well-being of individuals with disabilities through small dollar loan and matched savings opportunities. Participants could borrow up to $500 with 0 percent interest through the small dollar loan opportunity, and matched savings participants could earn a 1:1 match for every dollar saved - up to $500. Through peer mentorship, and help from their case managers, participants were encouraged to establish consistent savings habits, build their credit, and attain short-term financial goals.
Participants had the chance to take part in one or both opportunities – the small dollar loan and/or the matched savings. In order to maximize the impact of LABS, several strategies (peer mentorship, case management, credit health education, financial coaching and access to financial planning software) were included in the program. Peer mentorship and direct agency involvement provided oversight and support for LABS. Peer mentors encouraged participants to establish consistent savings habits, stay on track, make repayments on time, and motivated participants to focus on their short-term financial goals; case managers helped organize and support participants.
Overall, nine participants successfully made progress or completely achieved their short-term financial goal. Matched savings participants saved a total of $4,280.62 and, with the match incentives, total savings were $8,246.24. Nearly 67 percent of matched savings participants met or exceeded their savings goals. Loan borrowers increased their credit scores by an average of 280 points. Four out of five loan borrowers, or 80 percent, increased their personal credit scores.
These results represent more than dollars saved and points on a credit score. A report by Prosperity Now highlights the impact and influence asset-building opportunities, like LABS, can make on behavioral change with participants. According to the report, savings programs helped participants develop savings patterns that “increased [habit strength] over time during program participation and savings habits reduced the stress of financially difficult situations.” These results represent concrete changes – actual savings to help weather the next emergency or plans for the future; and access to opportunities for more and affordable credit, etc. Asset-building efforts like LABS truly create opportunities for financial security and financial equality and allow individuals to take control of their financial lives and futures.
Kyle Durbin is currently an Intern for the Office of Financial Empowerment at Louisville Metro Government’s Office of Resilience and Community Services in Louisville, KY. The Office of Financial Empowerment focuses on the unique opportunities and challenges of low-income and economically vulnerable citizens. In this capacity he is responsible for executing a range of projects including data analysis, producing marketing materials and general staff support. Earlier in his career Durbin has worked as a Reporter Intern at Louisville’s NPR Affiliate WFPL, a Tax Payment processor at an IRS Lockbox and presently is the Co-owner and Operations Manager of a media marketing company XPLouisville. He holds two bachelor degrees from the University of Kentucky in International Studies and Gender and Women Studies. He enjoys long walks on the beach, his favorite color is clear and he likes the smell of water.
Hello, I’m Alec Frazier. I’m autistic and have been a self-advocate and an advocate since I can remember, although definitely professionally since I gave my first speech in third grade in 1994. I am currently the Director of Autistic Reality, my own advocacy and consultancy firm. In this blog, I will discuss disability employment and the importance of networking.
Individuals with autism are often passed over for employment. In some cases, it is because we are not as socially adept as others. In other cases, it is because we may have unusual quirks which employers can find less desirable. As such, we can be completely capable of carrying out a job, but get turned down time and time again. Eighteen is seen as the age of majority, but I did not get my first paying job until at least 10 years later, and it was for an agency run by the disability community.
More frequently, my applications were turned down, or even ignored. For six years, while I was in university, I lived in a Rust Belt town and, at one point, submitted at least 150 applications in a row and received not one response. Over the years, I built up a very solid list of volunteer activities and other work. Some of my work, such as volunteer work for an independent living network, was actually more intense than some of the paid staff, and this was acknowledged by my superiors. However, they lacked the ability to pay me.
Finally, having obtained a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in disability studies, I moved to the Washington, D.C. area to pursue a career and advocacy.
I was not disappointed. Three days after moving to our nation’s capital, in late 2016, I was invited to the White House for a business conference on disability in the media called Lights! Camera! Access! 2.0. At this conference, I met Jd Michaels, the Executive Vice President of BBDO Worldwide, an international advertising firm. Although I continued pursuing employment in other venues, Jd and I continued communicating regularly, sometimes emailing, sometimes talking by phone, and sometimes Skyping.
After a few months, Jd approached me with a job offer: he hired me as an editor for an anthology of writings by authors with disabilities. In addition, I told him that I had a number of writings that I wished to get published, and he agreed to help me with that at no cost to myself, and in such a way that I could receive all of the profits. These essays are varied in character, from pop-culture reviews to academic papers. In fact, this blog will go in my book, which is titled Veni! Vedi! Autism! It will be out in about a month.
Jd has been an amazing employer. He has provided me with all of the tools I need to succeed. I have writing disabilities, so he has provided me with Dragon NaturallySpeaking software so I can dictate my papers and even blog entries like this one. He has even provided me with camera batteries so that I may better publicize my experiences, hotels, meals, and travel so that I may attend conferences and even photo shoots to publicize our work.
I finally found a job that provides me with stability and everything I need to succeed. Want to know how many times I applied? The answer is zero. Networking got me this position. It is my firm opinion that at least 50 percent of gaining employment is networking.
Below are some of my best networking tips:
- Do you know of a conference for people in your industry? Go! It might help to set aside a small budget to pay attendance fees, although a number of them are free.
- Does someone you know someone in “the business”? Inquire about them and try to get that person’s business card.
- Follow up regularly on business contacts and potential business contacts.
- Consider getting your own business card. There are services that can provide you with a number of free formats to choose from, and you will only have to pay printing and shipping. There are also more expensive cards, which are more customizable.
- Are you good at social networking? Consider creating a page for your business. Make sure it is a page, however, and not a group.
- Find out more about LinkedIn and join it, and regularly update your profile! It can be helpful with almost all of the ancillary parts of seeking a job, including resume building, networking, and staying apprised of current situations in your industry.
- Is there somebody you want to get to know? Someone you want to be aware of your work? Schedule a lunch date with them! People often have lunch hours free from work and would be glad to get to know you during that time.
- Is there an agency that governs your industry? Follow it!
- Do you have viewpoints that you wish to share with the public? Start a blog! Platforms like Blogger are more professional and less redundant.
- Is there an association of people in your business? Join!
- Think you’re ready for the next step? Start a website! Make sure to trademark a catchy, unforgettable URL!
There may be fees associated with conferences and memberships, but the benefit is by far above the loss of any money you may spend. Just remember to choose wisely.
Similarly, beware of scams. There are actually scams that promise to publicize your business and, before you know it, you will be out of hundreds or thousands of dollars. Overall, go with sources, companies, and entities you know and trust. Never be afraid to ask others for their opinions or advice.
These are just some out of many tips about networking. Instead of focusing exclusively on resumes and applications, it is important that we train job seekers with disabilities to engage in proper networking. That will allow everyone to truly shine and maximize their potential.