I have a deep appreciation for my mom because she always had the courage to stand up for me. When I was a kid, my school district strongly suggested that, because I was legally blind, I ride a “short bus” that would pick me up and drop me off at my house rather than ride the typical school bus that the other students got to ride. My mom insisted that I could walk to the corner, just like everyone else. A simple example, but a powerful one: my mom insisted on integration. The expectation was set in kindergarten: I was expected to behave just as my peers did.
As I got older, the expectations remained high. Many of my peers were involved in extracurricular activities—so I got involved, too. I understand it was difficult for my mom to let go. She wanted me to be safe. Basketball, softball, and many other sports were out of the question. But gymnastics, piano, and choir were the activities we compromised on. When I got to the gymnastics gym and musical rehearsals, the coaches and teachers had the same expectations for me as they did any other gymnast or musician. Creative but simple accommodations were made. For example, the music was enlarged to a font size that wouldn’t strain my eyes, and a teammate would verbally tell me when the judge was ready for me to start my routine during gymnastics competitions.
But if having a competitive integrated classroom is Step One and competitive integrated extracurricular activities are Step Two, competitive integrated vocational training is Step Three. In college, a practicum was a part of my curriculum. The administrators expected nothing different from me than anyone else in my program. The experience was invaluable and led me to understand the importance of gaining work experience during the summers.
Once I got internships, it was imperative that I became a self-advocate. My employers were accommodating because I told them exactly what I needed (screen magnification programs, large print materials, etc.). As long as my reasonable accommodations were provided, I completed just as much work as any other intern; my supervisors did not have low expectations for me.
As a result of high expectations from my mom, my teachers, my coaches, my college administrators, and my internship coordinators, I was prepared and had the expectation for myself that competitive integrated employment* (or simply employment) was going to be in my future. I have been employed in competitive integrated jobs since I graduated college.
I am incredibly lucky to have had role models who believed in my capacity even though I have a disability. Far too often, this is not the experience of individuals with disabilities. I hope that I have set the stage for my teachers, coaches, intern coordinators and coworkers to have high expectations for individuals with disabilities who come after me.
I strive to see the potential in every single person I meet—always envisioning what he/she can do rather than what he/she cannot. With a bit of creativity, any person can achieve competitive integrated employment. I have turned this philosophy into a vocation. I currently work at the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy, where I work on many initiatives that increase competitive integrated employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities.
Rose Sloan is a Policy Advisor for the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) where one of her main responsibilities is implementing the Employment First State Leadership Mentoring Program. Prior to ODEP, Rose worked for the National Federation of the Blind where she focused on improving employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Rose graduated from Northwestern University with a Bachelor’s of Science in Social Policy.
*Competitive integrated employment, as defined by ODEP, is work paid directly by employers at the greater of minimum or prevailing wages with commensurate benefits, occurring in a typical work setting where the employee with a disability interacts or has the opportunity to interact continuously with co-workers without disabilities, has an opportunity for advancement and job mobility, and is preferably engaged full-time, and starts with a competitive integrated education. The expectations of parents and teachers for their children and students with disabilities set the stage for the expectations that young people with disabilities will have for themselves as they grow up.