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Diversity & Inclusion in Employment in PA — PADES

Oct 27, 2013 / Workforce / Trackback

PADESummit  PADESummit  on TwitterIt’s been a mon­ster of a month!

The grand finale to Octo­ber for me, aka Mon­ster Con­fer­ence Marathon Month, was last week’s 2.5 day sum­mit with the express pur­pose of employ­ment and empow­er­ment for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties in PA. I had some minor involve­ment way behind the scenes with cer­tain aspects of the event, and enjoyedpre­sent­ing on the last day along with oth­ers on my team– but it was the com­muning energy of hun­dreds of atten­dees on a mis­sion that was for me the incred­i­ble part.

Impor­tant top­ics, impor­tant discussions…

It’s a big deal to have the Com­mon­wealth Sec­re­taries of Pub­lic Wel­fare, Labor & Indus­try, Trans­porta­tion and Edu­ca­tion in the same con­ver­sa­tion about employ­ment and empow­er­ment for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties — in front of hun­dreds of self-advocates, fam­i­lies, ser­vice providers, State, cor­po­rate C-level, and HR rep­re­sen­ta­tives — tak­ing ques­tions from them. These offi­cials do sit down together at Sec­re­taries meet­ings about State busi­ness, but to get them to con­vene about a spe­cific (and dif­fi­cult) topic in a niche sec­tor of the pop­u­la­tion is a real coup. Huge props to The Arc of Luzerne County Exec­u­tive Direc­tor, Pamela Zoty­niafor lead­ing the ini­tia­tive for the sec­ond year in a row.

There were ses­sions for gov­ern­ment peo­ple, busi­ness lead­ers, HR, self-advocates, fam­i­lies and ser­vice providers. Yes, 30 ses­sions over 2.5 days — all about employ­ment and options for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties of any kind, phys­i­cal or intellectual.

All peo­ple who want to work should have the opportunity

On the sur­face, it seems like a very basic prin­ci­ple and global human right that any­one who wants to work should have the oppor­tu­nity to do so — even more so in this cap­i­tal­ist repub­lic where it’s in the red, white and blue DNA our found­ing fathers left us along with a pen­chant for apple pie. How­ever, inde­pen­dence, acces­si­bil­ity, pre­pared­ness, closed mind­ed­ness and per­cep­tion all too often stand in the way of open doors.

While at PADES I had the plea­sure of meet­ing many indi­vid­u­als with life­long and acquired dis­abil­i­ties who are com­mit­ted to work­ing, and form­ing a healthy rela­tion­ship with Uncle Sam — and can’t seem to make it hap­pen. They are not look­ing for excep­tions, they sim­ply want equal access. They don’t want favors, they want fair­ness. They don’t want some­one to ‘give’ them a job — they want to be wel­comed into the can­di­date pool because they are qual­i­fied, and hired because they are a great fit for the posi­tion and culture.

A young adult whose dis­abil­ity has sig­nif­i­cant impact on his/her abil­ity to find work lives on about $710 SSI per month or $8,520 per year. Yes, an income that low qual­i­fies an indi­vid­ual for low-income hous­ing with a sub­si­dized rent, some­where around $50 in SNAP assis­tance for food, and Medicare. How­ever, imag­ine liv­ing this restric­tive lifestyle that no one ‘wants’. We all have the same dreams.

Stud­ies show that a 20-year-old worker has a 3-in-10 chance of becom­ing dis­abled before reach­ing full retire­ment age. — Social Secu­rity Admin­is­tra­tion. Whether one is born with or acquires a dis­abil­ity, to think it can’t hap­pen to any­one is woe­fully wrong. The sum­mit was host to a sig­nif­i­cant per­cent­age of atten­dees with dis­abil­i­ties look­ing for change and oppor­tu­nity to work toward mak­ing their white picket fence dreams come true.

Com­pa­nies that get it right

I give much credit to the com­pa­nies that invested in send­ing some­one from exec­u­tive lead­er­ship or HR to learn more. To learn from cor­po­rate lead­ers in com­pa­nies with model diver­sity and inclu­sion cul­tures. To want to do bet­ter. To want to do the right thing. It was appar­ent in the unscripted dia­log at the Busi­ness Suc­cess Sto­ries on Hir­ing and Pro­mot­ing Peo­ple with Dis­abil­i­ties ses­sion, lis­ten­ing to the cor­po­rate lead­ers from Walgreen’s, Lowe’s, Her­shey Enter­tain­ment and Resorts, and Cray­ola — that when you are com­mit­ted to your inter­nal cus­tomers as much as you are to exter­nal ones, you achieve a very healthy bal­ance good for every­one. And that makes you incred­i­bly won­der­ful and successful.

P.S I ran across The Diverse Work­force: Indi­vid­ual Dif­fer­ences, Per­son­al­ity, and Career on Google and think you should con­sider read­ing it — no mat­ter what posi­tion of the work­force you are in.




  1. […] PA Com­mon­wealth Sec­re­taries of DPW, L&I, Trans­porta­tion & Edu­ca­tion came together to dis­cuss employ­ment for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties at PADES.  […]

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