Peer advocate fights for jobs
By Eileen Persike
If anyone could fill the lead role in a success story, it would be Ashley Mathy. A young 20-something with a sharp sense of humor and purpose, Ashley is a fierce advocate for people with disabilities.
“My goal is for everyone who wants a minimum wage job to get a minimum wage job by encouraging them to get out in the community with people who don’t have a disability,” Ashley said matter of factly. “Everyone can overcome their challenges.”
Contrast that to a mere three years ago when she was working in a fast food restaurant in Milwaukee, suffering from frequent panic attacks and a job coach who just didn’t click. It seemed that Ashley’s autism would get the best of her. But then by pure happenstance, Ashley’s mother met someone who knew someone and before long, Ashley was at Headwaters and enrolling in the Jump! Start program at Nicolet College.
“That’s when I started learning advocacy skills to mold myself into the advocate I am today,” Ashley said. “In Milwaukee there are no opportunities but up here there are so many opportunities for people with disabilities to grow and gain independence.”
She changed – in her words – from a quiet person to a person who can’t stop talking. It’s a trait that is serving her well. In her role as an advocate, Ashley has met and interviewed state lawmakers, speaks to large groups about her disability and just recently was named by Gov. Tony Evers to the Board for People with Developmental Disabilities (BPDD).
“It’s very nice being part of something that can influence Wisconsin and be part of something that is so amazing,” Ashley said. “I believe positivity saves lives because I’ve seen it happen…we really need to keep encouraging people.”
The BPDD gives her opportunities to share her many thoughts on advocacy. “I think they like my brain because I keep coming up with new ideas. That’s actually a crucial part of my autism that they love because it keeps coming up ideas!”
Helping people be the best they can be – cheering them on, telling them they are amazing, they are awesome, they are special; those are the best parts she said, of being an advocate.
“I think they listen to me more because I have a disability,” Ashley said. “I think some parents have such low expectations for their child to become anything, you have to kind of not listen to those people in life, whether they are your parents or other people. I am amazing, I am awesome, I am special; I say that to myself in the mirror everyday just to make sure that I don’t let anybody tear me down.”
After struggling with finding a job, Ashley now works part time in a dean’s office at Nicolet College, part time at Headwaters working as a job coach and with clients. She is also the president of People First, an organization for people with disabilities to work for change. The group is currently looking at ways to improve transportation in the Northwoods.
“I just want to point out that anybody with or without a disability can do anything, and I think the limits we set for ourselves are the hardest to break.”
Ashley Mathy works everyday to prove her point.