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 enjoyed presenting 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 Zotynia for 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.