Disability Employment Awareness Month
Why it’s important to employ ALL people
BY ASHLEY MATHY, INTERN
Special to the Star Journal
My name is Ashley; I am 20-years old and a disability advocate. I have Pervasive Developmental Disability-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) which is a form of autism.*
As an advocate, I travel around the state and give speeches to legislators, job developers and parents of adults with disabilities. I also teach people to advocate for their own needs. I’ve recently become a member of the Wisconsin Board for People with Developmental Disabilities. As a participant in the Partners in Policy Making training program, I will learn how to create policies and initiatives that will benefit people with developmental disabilities.
As an intern for the Star Journal, I’m learning to express myself better to become a more effective advocate. I’ve had the opportunity to meet a lot of people. Recently, I interviewed Republican Sen. Tom Tiffany and his opponent for the 12th Senate District, Democrat Bryan Van Stippen. I asked them both about disability rights because this month is National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
Sen. Tiffany told me he has a nephew who has autism, and he has seen the special challenges for the families of people on the spectrum. He’s also met several people with special needs working in different settings. For example, one woman in Oneida County runs her own shredding business.
“We should be encouraging employers to hire people with disabilities,” Tiffany said. “A lot of employers are already doing that, and I think that’s a positive thing.”
A program at Nicolet College, called Jump Start, helps people with disabilities that are transitioning from high school to college, prepare for jobs in the community. Educational coaches help students with notes, and help with homework, kind of like an aid would be in high school.
“We had a meeting with Headwaters at Nicolet College, to work with the state Department of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR),” Tiffany added. “They aren’t allowing any of the state funding to go to Headwaters and Nicolet at this point, so that’s something we’re going to look at changing.”
A few weeks ago I got to meet with Bryan Van Stippen when he made a campaign stop in Rhinelander. I asked him plenty of questions about people with disabilities getting jobs. Unemployment rates are higher for those with disabilities than those without for all educational groups. It’s important to me that he understands what is needed to change the lives of people with disabilities.
“I would work with the Department of Health Services and other disability rights groups in Wisconsin,” Van Stippen said. “And learn about what issues people with disabilities face, and how best to fix those issues.”
He also said he would work with the local business community to incentivize them to hire people with disabilities. A big part of making jobs in the community successful is having job coaches. Job coaches don’t do the job for the person, but show them how to do it. Job coaches allow the person with the disability to tell them what they need, instead of the other way around.
I think that if we get more people with disabilities working, there will be less money paid to them in SSI, so there would be more funding for job coaches, for example. Most people with disabilities want to work and make money. Everyone with or without a disability feels more positive when they work.
“We must defend and work for the people, no matter what,” Van Stippen said.
“We have such a shortage of workers we can’t leave anybody on the sidelines at this point,” Tiffany said. “If you have the ability to work, it’s important that we have those people working.”
After talking to Sen. Tiffany and Bryan Van Stippen, I hope to get some changes made that would allow more people with disabilities to find jobs. Cross off the DIS and embrace the ABILITY!
* Behavioral symptoms of PDD-NOS can include emotional outbursts and tantrums often as a result of fear, anxiety or misunderstanding a situation. Often language can be taken literally and I don’t understand when someone is joking or being sarcastic, happy, sad or angry. I have difficulty understanding body language, facial expressions and tone of voice. I have social anxiety, special awareness issues, and “perseveration”—dwelling on a certain subject. (http://www.nationalautismresources.com/autismsymptoms.html)