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Inclusion Works

A Giving Matters blog post earlier this month by Johnson Scholarship Foundation (JSF) and Marriott Foundation for People with Disabilities Board Member, King Jordan, describes the staff young man in a wheelchairwho support students with disabilities on college campuses as the Secret Sauce that can make a difference in the lives of young people making the transition from adolescence to young adulthood. I couldn’t agree more about the essential role staff play in a young adult’s success. With more than two decades of serving over 21,000 young people, the Marriott Foundation for People with Disabilities (MFPD) and its Bridges from School to Work (Bridges) program has also perfected the secret sauce: committed, compassionate, quality staff – we call them employer representatives – who match young people with real jobs in businesses that offer advancement opportunities. Built upon Marriott’s long standing culture that puts people first, MFPD-Bridges puts ability first, championing what young adults can do in the competitive workplace. And what’s equally remarkable and tremendously rewarding for staff with the secret sauce, and all of us, is witnessing the outcome: the transformative power of job in a young person’s life.

When we say that the Bridges program transforms lives, we mean it, but we know that transformation doesn’t happen overnight; it’s a gradual process. After all, the youth in young man wearing a work apronthis program are still in their formative years—with some kids eager to rush into the world of work, while others are a bit reluctant to leave behind the familiarity of their communities and high schools. Most, however, share one thing in common; young adults come to us with a great deal of uncertainty and trepidation, lacking self-assurance, ambivalent or even
skeptical because other programs made promises that never materialized.

During the months of October and November, Bridges programs across the country hold celebratory events timed to coincide with National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). Hosted by our Board Chair, Richard Marriott, these celebrations recognize youth with disabilities and the employers who hire them. This year’s NDEAM theme, Inclusion Works, seems to carry more poignancy as we’ve gathered in Bridges cities to celebrate not just a first job, but a second, and in some cases, a third job through young woman wearing a work apronBridges. This is because Bridges works with these young adults for one year, sometimes longer, helping them climb the first few steps of a career ladder. We know these steps will set them on a path to independence and lifelong employment.

Take for example a young lady named Jamethia in Dallas, whose first Bridges job was as a steward at a Fairmont Hotel where she worked for a year until the commute to work became unmanageable. Her second Bridges job, also a steward, was much closer to home at the Dallas W Hotel. All along, Jamethia knew that she wanted stewarding to lead her on a culinary career path. So with that goal in sight, she continued to work, juggling her W Hotel job with culinary school, a plan that is paying off.  Jamethia has been employed continuously for more than two years and is now on her third job, working for the last nine months in the pastry kitchen at the 1000-room Dallas Omni Hotel. As she has progressed through each job, Jamethia needed less support and guidance. For her Omni job, she completed the application on her own while asking her Bridges mentor a few questions over the phone.

Jamethia’s is a life transformed through the power of a job, affecting not only this young woman standing in front of a sign reading AMCambitious young lady, but her manager, other associates at the Omni, and countless others who witness the positive change.

And as National Disability Employment Awareness Month draws to a close, it is worth reminding ourselves of the
nearly 400,000 young adults with disabilities exiting special education every year in the U.S. whose abilities can and must be realized through post-secondary education, training and the power of a job. Let’s redouble our efforts throughout the year to promote and support efforts to integrate young adults with disabilities in the competitive workplace.

Inclusion works. It works for the young adult. It works for the employer. It works for us all.

What Makes a Movement

Focus on Ability, Not Disabilty

Every year in October the country observes National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM).  Each year NDEAM establishes a theme and this year that is “inclusion works.”   The notion that inclusion does work speaks directly to what we do at the Johnson Scholarship Foundation (JSF). Twenty of our grant recipient partners are programs that support various aspects of inclusion for people with disabilities along the entire age spectrum.  We know from working with these programs that inclusion works.

Unfortunately, too many people do not yet realize or acknowledge this fact.  Too many people have preconceived notions of the limitations that disability presents and not enough awareness of the abilities of those of us who have disabilities.

For me, National Disability Employment Awareness Month is very personal.  As a deaf man and as the former president of Gallaudet University, I have been very close to issues related to disability for more than 50 years.  About 10 years ago I was invited to join the Board of Directors of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation and my work with disability issues immediately grew by leaps and bounds.

At the Foundation we think of ourselves as investors.  In the area of disability, we invest in programs that work directly with individuals to help them transition from one level of education to the next and finally to the world of work.  We have learned two very significant things doing this.

First, and this is where disability is highly personal to me, we have learned that the mostpeople shaking hands across a table difficult barrier people with disabilities face is not a physical one, but is the barrier of
negative attitudes.
  Ignorance is a frequently misused or overused word, but related to disability, it is true that by and large most people are ignorant.  Most people, when they think about individuals with disabilities, think first about what those people cannot do.  By doing this, they actually create a barrier which makes it more difficult for people with disabilities to achieve.  When we can focus instead on what people with disabilities can do instead of what they cannot do, it becomes much easier for them to achieve.

The second thing we have learned relates directly to the first.  Over time and after significant investment in scholarships for people with disabilities we now know that while those scholarships are very important in helping people with disabilities access higher education, as important or maybe even more important is what we have called group photo with people wearing name tagselsewhere a “secret sauce.”  Let me describe briefly one of the Foundation’s core programs and the importance of secret sauce.

Since the Foundation began, we have provided over 4,250 scholarships to nearly 2,500 students with disabilities at all 12 of the universities in the State University System of Florida. This totals to more than $9 million of JSF funds granted to these students over the past 25 years. Many of the students who receive scholarship support say that without it they would not have been able to attend university.  Along with the scholarship dollars that they receive, however, is a different and maybe more important support.  They receive the personal support and attention of the staff people who work in the offices of disability support services.  This support is what we have called the secret sauce, but it’s a very simple concept.

The staff people who work in the disability services offices “get it.”  When they see a student who has a disability they focus immediately on what that student can do.  Instead of presenting an attitudinal barrier, their positive attitudes help students succeed.  They help them succeed in class and in life.  They help them persist in their education from year to year and they help them transition to the world of work.graphc reading "We're all able to do anything!"

This is why this is so personal to me.  For most of my life I have had to deal with negative attitudes related to my deafness.  Since joining JSF, I’ve been privileged to help address and change those attitudes for many hundreds of young people.  We at the Foundation have seen so many successful transitions to work, but what has given me most personal satisfaction has been the overall growth in the recognition of the abilities of people with disabilities.

I encourage you to take the time during this month to reflect on your own personal perception of disability. Last week’s blog focused on the fact that we have a long way to go. We definitely do. And change can start with you.

We Have a Long Way to Go

October as a month of access and inclusion dates back to 1945 when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week in October the “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.”  We have come a long way since then but we still have a long way to go as a nation to educate and increase employment access for millions of people with disabilities in this President Bush signing the american with disabilities actcountry.  Only 19.8% of people with disabilities participate in the employment realm compared to 68.7% of those without disabilities.

So while we celebrate the contributions of people with disabilities in employment during this month, we are also reminded about how far we still need to go.

When the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed and signed into law in 1990, President George H.W. Bush expressed a vision that it will provide opportunity for people with disabilities in this country “blend fully and equally into the rich mosaic of the American mainstream.”  Even after the 2008 amendment (ADAAA), the vision is still far from being realized.  Many buildings are still not accessible, many technologies are still not accessible, and the minds of a great number of individuals are still closed to the reality that artificial barriers exist.  Yes, we have come a long way but still have a long way to go.

I was hired as a director of a disability program some years back and a member of my staff is a wheelchair user.  I worked with this great colleague for about five years and found this person to be extremely professional, conscientious, timely, and efficient.  I tried many days to get to work early so I could say I made it to the office first but was only successful at this once.  Out of curiosity, I asked how a typical day would be.  I was informed that the day begins at 4:00 a.m. because it takes that long to get ready and make it to work on time.  When some colleagues would try to get out right at 5 or a bit before, young woman in a wheelchair at a computerthis person would not mind staying behind and closing the doors.  This colleague was not hired because of the visible disability but because of the skill.  However, this colleague felt a great burden to prove that they deserve to keep their job and therefore must do more than others.  This is the reality for many people with disabilities; they feel a need to demonstrate that they deserve the position.

The Johnson Scholarship Foundation (JSF) is well aware of the discouraging figures and has expanded its funding strategy to include employment.  For 25 years, JSF has participated in post-secondary access by providing scholarships to students with disabilities.  The Foundation has invested in both the students as well as in the professionals that work with them at all twelve schools within the State University System of Florida.  Many of these institutions (e.g. Florida State University, Florida A&M University, University of Florida, University of South Florida, Florida Atlantic University) create significant events to recognize the diversity that exist on their campuses by honoring the students they serve and those who contribute to the success and access for those students.

Institutions of higher education have done remarkable jobs at ensuring access and inclusion for students.  As a whole, the society needs to go further to giving people with disabilities opportunities to show they can contribute by hiring them and ensuring reasonable and appropriate accommodations.  Foundations also need to invest more in Older man playing with a group of young childrenprograms and projects that increase diversity in the workplace,  ensuring that diversity is not only about race, color, gender, or sexual orientation but also about ability.  Self-sufficiency and sustainable employment is what all Americans long for, it is the same for people with disabilities.  The Johnson Scholarship Foundation welcomes great ideas and innovative projects that focus on employment and self-sufficiency of people with disabilities.

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM)

National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) is observed each October. The theme this year is “#InclusionWorks.” In honor of NDEAM, Giving Matters will devote poster for inclusion worksthe month of October to the issue of disability employment.
Employment of people with disabilities has become central to the Johnson Scholarship Foundation’s mission and strategy. In its early years, the Foundation focused solely on education of people with disabilities. Educators pointed out that unemployment of people with disabilities, even those with college degrees, was much, much higher than for the rest of the population.
Employment of people with disabilities is a civil rights issue. Notwithstanding federal legislation prohibiting discrimination, it has not been well understood by the general public or employers in the past. Employers seem to have avoided hiring people with disabilities because they did not understand that it is good business and adds to the bottom line.
A Louis Harris and Associates survey of 920 American employers revealed that employees with disabilities have about the same productivity levels as employees without disabilities. Some 90 per cent were rated as average or above average in performance of job duties. Nearly 80 per cent of the managers also said that their employees with a disability work as hard as or harder than their employees without a disability (Alberta Human Services). Other surveys have found similar results on performance and also lower than average absenteeidisability graphicsm and job turnover.
The Foundation began to include grants to non-profit organizations that focus on employment of people with disabilities and changed its mission to include employment. Recent grant agreements include Bridges from School to Work and The National Statler Center.
Bridges from School to Work engages employers, schools, community resources, youth and their families to help businesses meet their workforce needs while offering young people with disabilities the opportunity to learn, grow and succeed through employment. It presently serves about one thousand students per year from operations in 9 U.S. cities. Bridges has recently adopted a plan that would expand its locations to new cities and double the number of young people that it serves every year.
The National Statler Center for Careers in Hospitality Service is a program of the Olmsted Center for Sight in Buffalo, New York. It offers two curriculum modules: a ten week program that focuses on customer service in the hospitality industry and a seven week program on customer service for contact centers, financial and medical offices, transportation, and communications industries. Statler’s curriculum was developed in people shaking hands across a tablepartnership with Johnson & Wales University, the world’s premier hospitality educational institution and is a New York State proprietary business school, certified by the state department of education.
Foundation grants to employment focused non-profits include Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities, the National Organization on Disability, Abilities and Gulfstream Goodwill Industries.
We salute our grantees and former grantees and the work that they do. Thanks to their work and others like them, employment of people with disabilities is receiving more attention in recent years. The Federal Rehabilitation Act requires federal employers (this includes contractors who sell goods or services to the federal government) to take affirmative action to employ and advance in employment qualified individuals with disabilities. American businesses, large and small, have taken a public stand and increased the number of people with disabilities in their workforces.
Progress has been made but there is still much to do. Get behind this issue. Spread the word. Donate to the cause or, better yet, hire someone with a disability. You and your business will be better for it!