disabilities, - Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities
I am 21 years old, and I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when I was born. A walker gets me around my house, and a wheelchair gets me around the world outside of it. I rode a different bus to school than most students did since they had no need of a wheelchair lift.
It takes me longer than most people to access certain areas because I have to find a ramp to bypass a set of stairs, find and press a button to open doors (provided the button works), or wait on an elevator to take me to a higher floor in a building. If I happen to be outside when it rains, using an umbrella is actually an inconvenience. Wherever I go, I realize that there are people who may stare at me, make comments or assumptions about me, or call me an inspiration just for doing the same things they are.
These people define me by my disability. They have no way of knowing that I took and excelled in several Advanced Placement courses in high school; I studied French and am currently studying Japanese; I can play the ocarina; I am pursuing a degree in Computer Game Design and Development; I voted in the last presidential election; and I recently obtained my learner’s permit.
None of these has anything to do with my having cerebral palsy. Having a disability means living with certain limitations, but it does not affect my goals and aspirations in life. It never has, and it never will. Some people may define me by my disability, and while it is a part of who I am, I live every day knowing that my disability does not define me. I am defined by what I allow to define me.
While I have some issues and concerns some people will never have, I have much in common with many people at and around my age regardless of a disability. I am equally curious and driven just like they are. But, just like my peers without disabilities, I too worry about getting a job once a I graduate college.
As we celebrate 70 years of the National Disability Employment Awareness Month this month, I must make known my desire to live independently and be gainfully employed in the “real world,” something for which I could not be prepared just by taking a class or reading a textbook (every once in a while, I have to look up how to write a check correctly, for example). I want to apply my degree in game design and development to further advance science and technology – and perhaps even help the mainstream community learn that a disability is not a limit to potential.
I have to learn skills I do not yet have to apply the skills I do have to reach my goals. In any case, I know that even though I have a disability, even though the road upon which I embark may have more potholes than I would like, getting to my destination, whatever it is, is very much possible.
BIO: Kenneth Gagne has been a Georgia resident for 17 years and currently resides in Lilburn. He is a 2012 graduate of Parkview High School and a former student at Southern Polytechnic State University, which is now Kennesaw State University.Gagne is an avid bibliophile and can often be found reading horror fiction, historical fiction,or someone’s autobiography. He also enjoys writing, which I do most often when practicing Japanese vocabulary and syntax. Most recently, he has taken up swimming and considers nothing else quite as refreshing, liberating or invigorating.
This is an excerpt from Randy Lewis’ talk at the Impact Business Speaker Series at Georgia Tech’s Scheller College of Business.
My son, Austin, has autism. He didn’t speak until he was age 10. He’s trying to make up for lost time if you ever get a chance to talk to him. He was the first student with autism to go to his school. He drives. He’s sometimes my chauffeur to the airport. He has a great sense of humor.
He has no friends. He has never been invited to a party and never received an email. He probably reads at about a fifthgrade level. I’ve never played a game with my own son. Not even a game of catch. And most people like him would never be offered a job.
Randy Lewis, former Sr. Vice President of Walgreens, Peace Corps volunteer, Fortune 50 executive and accidental advocate, led Walgreens’ logistics division for sixteen years as the chain grew from 1,500 to 8,000 stores. Lewis introduced an inclusive model in Walgreens distribution centers that resulted in 10% of its workforce consisting of people with disabilities who are held to the same standards as those without disabilities. Its success has changed the lives of thousands with and without disabilities and is serving as a model for other employers in the US and abroad. He is pictured above with his son, Austin.A job can mean the difference in life. Security, friendships, possibilities. But when it comes to getting a job – what I do know as a parent and as an employer – is that people with disabilities die the death of 1,000 cuts. The unkindest of which is a belief by most people that people with disabilities really can’t do the job. It’s a great thing to do if you can afford it, but otherwise it’s a charity thing to do and that’s what I knew [Walgreens] was facing.
We started out trying to hire some people with disabilities. We hired some groups who were bringing in people with disabilities and we gave them certain tasks to do. We were getting them team member T-shirts, name badges just like everyone else. I remember this woman comes up to me, in our Dallas center, and she shows me a picture. Now, I didn’t know if she worked for us or was part of the group, but she must have seen the confusion on my face because she followed with, “Oh, I’m not one of them. I’m their sponsor.”
It struck me like a slap in the face. Those folks were not doing traditional jobs, they weren’t earning the same pay, and they weren’t with “us.” So, I knew we had to do better.
So, we said, let’s ask for volunteers who would like to work with some of the folks in that group, let’s hire them and give them a chance.
One of the people that we hired was a man named Chuck. Chuck is on the [autism] spectrum. He had graduated from college with a degree in accounting. He had never been able to get a job, but we hired him. We learned that Chuck’s favorite color was purple because every time a purple token would pass through his area, Chuck would stop, let out a yell of joy, and start dancing. Something we had never seen.
So maybe this is something we can tolerate in a work environment? Which would we prefer from our employees? Dancing or complaining? Easy choice – dancing.
Perhaps there’s a group of people out there like us who could do the job, but would never be allowed to because of these invisible walls we have around ourselves.
So, we decided that if we’re going to hire people with disabilities, we’re going to start with jobs. And we want a big number, because if this works, we want to be able to demonstrate to the world that people with disabilities can perform as well as anybody else.
If we hire one or two, people can say, “That’s great, Walgreens. You’re a big company. You can afford that.” We wanted to demonstrate that beyond a reasonable doubt, people with disabilities can do the job – and not just jobs for people with disabilities.
Business is not a charity. We have shareholders that are just as demanding as any other company. People with disabilities had to do the same job, receive the same pay and be evaluated on the same performance scale. We needed to measure it, so that’s why we said one-third of the workforce had to be people with disabilities. We said we’re going to change the way people view people with disabilities.
We changed our hiring process. Traditionally, we would put an application out there, and we’d screen them using a computer. We’d pre-screen them, call them up on the phone, have a little pre-interview, and you get called in for a final interview. That’s the process. But we knew people with disabilities, people like Austin, would never be able to get through that process. We needed an alternative.
Now, my son, Austin, exposed me to all the challenges, but he also exposed me to all the possibilities and opened up my thinking. That’s how we knew what we had to do. We needed a way for people with disabilities who can demonstrate their ability to do the job in nontraditional ways.
We found an expert on people with disabilities. We asked them to find 200 people for our Anderson, South Carolina center – 75 on day one and 10 a month thereafter. They understood our jobs, went out and then did the pre-screening. They found the people that they thought would be successful in our environment. Then, we would bring them in, provide the job coaches, and Walgreens would provide supervision and let them do the work on a trial basis. We’d pay them during this period and when they’re successful, we hire them.
One of the people who heard about this was Desiree, who lived in San Diego. Desiree has a rare muscle condition that requires she use a walker every once in a while. She packed up her bags, moved her family across the country a year – a year – before we opened, just for the chance to be in line. She’s a manager at that building today. A person who we would have never hired, because we would have assumed that it would be too difficult for her to get to all the parts of the building, is now a manager of the center in South Carolina.
People ask, “How did this turn out?” This turned out to be the most productive center in the 100-year history of our company. What we had hoped to achieve worked. People with disabilities perform the same work safer and have less workers compensation costs. That’s a big concern among employers.
We also heard, “It’s going to cost more,” or “This is more dangerous, so there are going to be more accidents,” or “Their health costs are going to go up.” Again, these are things that are claimed, but have no evidence in data. We did not find that. Our healthcare costs did not go up, it was the same. Our retention was better and our absenteeism was less.
The center is the most productive in the company’s history. Over 30% of the workforce has a disability. Most had never been able to secure a steady job before. Within four years, over 1,000 people with disabilities were working in centers across the country.
This is a group that shows up. This is all that we hoped for.
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Preserving, celebrating and learning from Georgia’s rich disability history helps future generations understand the importance of disability rights advocacy. The Georgia Disability History Alliance (GDHA) held the Georgia Disability History Symposium: Urgency of the Moment in November 2017 at the Russell Building Special Collections Libraries in Athens, GA.
Support and service providers, advocates, UGA faculty and students, individuals with disabilities and others, including National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities’ (NACDD) CEO Donna Meltzer and Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities’ (GCDD) Executive Director Eric Jacobson, attended the half-day symposium to address the urgency of learning from the state’s disability history.Wheelchair in the exhibit at the Russell Library is an antique 3-wheel chair produced by the Gendron Wheel Company of Toledo, Ohio in the 1930s
“Georgia’s historical part in the disability rights movement has been central to informing and creating change,” said Gillian Grable, one of the GDHA’s founders.
Highlighting major events in Georgia’s disability history, Mark Johnson, director of advocacy at the Shepherd Center, touched on early ADAPT protests, the importance of the 1999 United States Supreme Court case Olmstead v. L.C. and 2017’s “No Cuts, No Caps” demonstrations to save Medicaid. Johnson showcased how past advocacy has changed public policy and the differences it has made presently.
Dr. Beth Mount, author and founder of Graphic Futures, a consulting organization, stressed the importance of personcentered planning by creating opportunities and relationships that will highlight a person’s gifts, especially in Georgia.
“Make [gifts] and capacities visible and find places where those gifts are needed,” Mount said. “Build alliances that will sustain their contributions and be the ally that brings to life what other people feel so strongly about.”
Mount explained how the urgency of seeing that potential will aid in taking on a system, which for years was a form of constraint.
Discussing the pervasive effects of social exclusion and control, John O’Brien, former citizen advocacy planner of the Georgia Advocacy Office (GAO) and author, spoke of the history of people with disabilities being pushed aside and “living on the margins.”
O’Brien reiterated the importance of investing in people and organizations who offer direct supports. He also examined how the gap that’s been created by the system can be bridged in the future by putting in place social resources and relationships for those who have been excluded or segregated.
In a panel discussion, GCDD Council members Parker Glick and Evan Nodvin, as well as Basmat Ahmed, executive director of Al-Tamyoz Community Building, a Real Communities partner, observed that younger generations are beginning to challenge notions that people historically had about people with disabilities.
“We want to empower youth,” Glick said. “Success [to us] looks like a conversation with an individual, seeing our perspective and not being an afterthought.”
GCDD, along with the Albany Advocacy Resource Center, the Center for Social Justice, Human and Civil Rights at UGA, Georgia Microboards Association and Easterseals of Southern Georgia, sponsored the symposium.
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By Pat Nobbie, PhD, Mia’s mom
Every once in a while, universes converge – in a short span of time, the same message emerges from multiple sources and this is both unsettling and confirming.
In October, I was in Athens for Mia’s birthday, and it was magical. She met the UGA football team and got her picture taken with quarterback Jake Fromm. Laura’s third baby, Tate, arrived in the wee hours just after her birthday and she held him in the hospital where she works when he was just eight hours old. We gathered all her friends at Applebee’s for the traditional birthday dinner; and attended a costumed fall festival with the families she has grown up with.
It was at this event that another mom and I had a conversation about “what to do?” What to do about the young people who surrounded us at the festival who wanted jobs, wanted to move on from their parent’s homes, knowing there was a multi-year waiting list for any type of support from the State? Could we do it ourselves, she wondered? Could we work with someone to start businesses, figure out shared living, and not wait on the system?
Not too much later, I was at the TASH conference in Atlanta and heard the same message from Rod and Ann Turnbull as they shared “truths” from their son’s well-lived life.
Ann’s message was to pick two or three truths and focus on them. As parents, we often don’t get the luxury of selecting what to focus on – things happen and we deal with them. But this message, following on what my mom friends in Athens wonder, and then reaffirmed with what another group of mom friends presented at a TASH session called “Advocates, Leaders, Friends,” reinforced what I already believe. But it was equally unsettling because it challenges us.
Here’s the thing. WE KNOW WHAT TO DO. We know how school inclusion works and why it is so valuable; we know how to create community around people; we know the most successful employment practices. We know the barriers imposed by outdated policies and regulations and how they should be changed. We know how even a little financial support can go a long way to supporting people to have “an enviable life.” And, we actually know how good practice and some investment saves money in the long run.
What’s unsettling is the inertia of the administrative and political systems. Over my years of work, I have alternately advocated for systems to provide what people need and done an end-run around them. I suppose we will always have to do both. Not everyone has activists in their corner. And innovations need system support to be sustainable.
So as we go concurrently into the 2018 Georgia Legislative Session and the next round of Congress, recognize system impact and don’t lose your capacity for outrage. Choose another “truth” that has meaning for you … but, don’t postpone joy.
Happy New Year!
10 Truths from 150 (or 200) Years or So of Our Lives
- Seek an enviable life.
- Expect the unexpected.
- Create your own village.
- Go boldly into the unknown.
- Be accountable for the whole life.
- Breathe some.
- Recognize system impact.
- Never lose your capacity for outrage.
- Pursue dignity diligently.
- Never postpone joy.
Credit: From Ann and Rod Turnbull’s Keynote at TASH, 12.14.2017, (loosely recorded!)
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By Blake Hall
When I was made aware of Take Your Legislator to Work Day (TYLTWD), Matthew Roush was the first person that came to my mind. I first thought of Matt because it was he who first helped me to understand what supported employment is supposed to look like in an integrated and competitive environment, like SunTrust.
When I presented the idea to Matt, he was absolutely thrilled to be a part of it. Even more so, his supervisors and co-workers became completely invested in making sure that TYLTWD was the type of event that Matt deserves. Everyone worked together to make sure that Rep. Sheila Jones was accommodated and warmly welcomed, but most importantly, that Matt and his accomplishments were the center of attention.
The event went exceptionally well, as Matt was able to share what his work has meant to him, and his co-workers were able to open up about the positive personal impacts they’ve experienced from sharing an office with a person who has a disability. Being able to partake in such a powerful display of recognition for someone as hardworking as Matt served as a personal reminder of why I accepted the task of being a Career Specialist at Briggs & Associates.
I took the position at Briggs & Associates in September of 2016 when I moved to Atlanta. Upon researching the company, their philosophy became clear: to promote inclusivity and integration into the community through meaningful careers for those living with disabilities. Having worked at a day center for adults with disabilities previously, it was obvious that working with Briggs & Associates would be the most logical next step in my passionate pursuit of helping individuals live their best possible lives.
The position of a Career Specialist felt like an amazing dream come true to me. During my first week of training, it was Matt who helped me to see the Briggs’ philosophy in practice. Being able to work alongside of and help to empower people living with disabilities is what initially brought me to this field. Since working with Briggs & Associates, I have been able to do that within a capacity that I never imagined until being introduced to the profound impact of supported employment.
It is this profound impact that I hope was also introduced to Rep. Shelia Jones. It is my wish that she was able to see that employment for people with disabilities can mean a wide variety of jobs, and that there is a population of individuals who have been historically limited in their pursuits, but are becoming increasingly empowered to enter boldly into their communities to work and live alongside of everyone else.
The choice to embrace supported employment is beneficial for all involved. It gives employers the opportunity to utilize dedicated, hard working and special individuals to their maximum potential, while simultaneously allowing those individuals to feel the same sense of accomplishment and belonging that each and every one of us deserves to experience.
Blake Hall is a Career Specialist with Briggs & Associates and lives in Atlanta, GA. Hall began working in the disabilities field directly after graduating from White County High School in Cleveland, GA. Blake’s experience in multiple settings within the disabilities field and his passion for advocating for individuals with disabilities ultimately led him to the Supported Employment field. Blake is currently studying psychology at the University of North Georgia and enjoys playing music and traveling with his wife in his spare time.
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By Beth Beskin
I decided to participate in Take Your Legislator To Work Day because Katrina [Parsons] reached out to me. My decision to attend was based on the fact that not only was I invited, but I was going to meet a constituent of mine who was working at disABILITY LINK.
As legislators, we get many invitations, but we can’t accept them all. So, it really made a difference that the personal invitation was tailored to me, and that I was going to be interacting with Katrina, a constituent of mine.
I was really impressed with my experience this year because I got to participate in a job training skills session. Katrina led a meeting and there were probably 10-15 participants in the room. I was able to actively participate in learning from the attendees, giving them some advice that I think might help them as they work to get a job offer. I thought it was a very constructive environment.
This is a form of advocacy, so as a legislator, it makes an impact when you have a role as a decision maker or elected official. It can shape the way we might support competitive employment or employment for people with disabilities in the legislature.
I’ve been aware of this need for a long time, because I served on the Region 3 Planning Board of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities from about 2011 until I got elected to the legislature in 2015. I’ve been aware of the disability community and its need for services and for the importance in terms of allocation of assets.
These experiences prompt me to be sensitive to any bills that come across this session as they relate to the disability community and to apply my experiences from this program to my consideration of those bills. When it comes to my colleagues, especially those who have never participated in this program, I would encourage them to meet their constituents because this is someone in your district, and it is an issue that is important to them.
Take Your Legislator to Work Day has been a very positive experience for me. I don’t know if there is a program in every district, every house district across the State, but to the extent that there are constituents who are working in this program, I would highly encourage legislators to take advantage of the opportunity.
At the same time, there is a personal takeaway. Participating in this initiative confirms my prior impression that there is a large disability community here in Georgia and everyone is working to find suitable and meaningful employment. We need to support everyone to be the most independent person they can be and work together to facilitate that public good.
Rep. Beth Beskin represents State House District 54 in the Georgia General Assembly. She serves as a member of the Education Committee, Judiciary Committee, Regulated Industries Committee, State Planning and Community Affairs Committee, and the MARTOC Committee. She serves as Chair of the MARTOC Governance Subcommittee and as Vice Chair of the Education Subcommittee on Innovation and Workforce Development. Beskin has participated in two Take Your Legislator to Work Days.
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