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Employment, Empowerment & Empathy
Today’s newsletter spotlights several things about which I’m quite passionate: 1) empowering and employing young adults with disabilities and 2) encouraging and honoring empathy when we see it and need it. I hope this information sparks something good in your world today. Thanks for being here.
Another Normal is an e-newsletter for parents, educators and anyone committed to helping young adults with disabilities bloom and grow. If this newsletter was forwarded to you, please get your own copy below. To all the new readers who’ve subscribed recently: Welcome! Let us know more here about what interests you. This helps determine who and what we spotlight in each issue.
Changing minds. Changing lives.
Our 26-year-old son loves his part-time job and derives a great deal of confidence, self-worth and real joy from the contributions he’s making. Finding a real job that leverages his many unpaid internships and career explorations has taken tremendous effort by Andrew, us, job coaches and job developers. I often ask myself why.
According to the CDC, 17% of the U.S. population has a developmental disability, including more than 6 million individuals with intellectual disability. That’s a lot of people with autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and more who can and should be working and contributing to society.
So why don’t we do a better job of providing employment paths to these folks, who are eager to work and skilled to contribute in meaningful ways? After all, as Michigan State University’s Connie Sung explains:
On the job, people with developmental disabilities are on task at almost twice the rate of their peers without disabilities; they stay at jobs longer, they have lower absenteeism and they positively affect a company’s culture.
I believe parents, educators and others who recognize these realities need to advocate more effectively for change. Although we may not want this role, many of us are well-suited to bring employers into the conversation to increase their understanding of the challenges and possible solutions. So are many of the young people for whom we’re advocating.
Together, we can help employers adjust their perspectives (learn to bloom?) so they more readily value the capabilities of individuals with special needs. This is not about lowering expectations or hiring someone out of charity. It’s trying to find the right job in the right business for the right person. Period.
Sometimes, this starts with a simple conversation. Think about who you already know in your community. Can you reach out for a cup of coffee and a chat, scary as this might feel? What information can you share to help educate and empower them to change their perspective? How can you brainstorm with them to help their organization become more inclusive? What can you teach the young adult(s) in your life so they can self-advocate for change?
School districts can and must support these efforts through transition programs and other employment support services. And human service organizations still need to continue their fine work. But parents and young adults who want to work and contribute to their communities must help set the course.
Here are a few good resources to support this journey:
Social Security’s Ticket to Work Program
Another Normal would love to profile people and businesses who are getting it right here. If you or someone you know is worth a closer look, please reach out so we can contact them directly.
Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much.
— Helen Keller
Caring about cash.
According to some experts, the rush to a cashless society is increasingly marginalizing people with disabilities. As this BBC story details, some U.K. advocates believe cashless retailers are actually discrimnatory. But aren’t there always two sides to every coin?
Given our son’s physical limitations, I am delighted by options like Apple Pay and debit cards, which reduce the need for mental math, making change, and physically manipulating a wallet. Optimizing his smart phone enables Andrew to more independently pay for things he wants and needs. He and we much prefer it over cash, but others disagree — especially advocates for the more than 8 million U.S. households that don’t use a bank. A year ago, Philadelphia banned cashless stores altogether. What’s the deal?
Here in the U.S. schools and disability service agencies spend an eternity teaching and re-teaching individuals with disabilities to use cash. For many folks, this is appropriate and valuable; however, I think more instruction is needed about all payment options (here’s a great resource), as well as the many banking and budgeting apps accessible to people with I/DD and physical limitations. There’s also a role for parents (once again). Find out what your son or daughter prefers and work to optimize their use of it throughout daily life. This requires us to learn new things (technology!), step back, and let go — in addition to advocating with local retailers where you live.
I’m eager to know where readers stand.
More than a haircut.
When I think about the beautiful relationships our family has enjoyed over the years, our longtime barbershop immediately comes to mind. It was so warm and welcoming that we couldn’t wait for our next visit — especially Andrew. Long before TikTok, Toni, Sylvia and George became real friends to us and reduced the anxiety and frustration that many young people with disabilities experience when they go for a haircut. Even after we moved away, Andrew returned monthly for a cut and catch-up. Meaningful conversations, laughs, encouragement and dancing served right along with the clippers!
When I saw this recently, I was reminded of those days and elated for the families in my hometown of Cincinnati. I’m thrilled to see Vernon Jackson’s spark and spirit profiled on such a huge stage. You can support his Gifted Program here, or just show this to your favorite stylist and hopefully make some magic happen where you live. Happiness all around.