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Tap Into the Power of Employees with Disabilities

Society's Assets is proud to join the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy and many other organizations in celebrating the 75th observance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month. To raise awareness about disability employment issues, Emily Cadman, Coordinator of Independent Living Services at Society's Assets shares her story.

I am a person with a disability, a wheelchair user, and a relatively new employee. My journey was difficult, but not uncommon. I graduated with a Bachelor's in Social Work, made my resume, and started applying. I was excited to begin my career.

My first interview was for a work assistant in a dorm. When I rolled in, they paused. First they asked if I transfer myself, which surprised me as it has nothing to do with work.They asked how I did chores at home, but not about my experience working with students. After another interview, a woman walked me to my car. She spoke over my head to my driver, sing-song, "I got her back to you in one piece! She survived!" I felt like a two-year-old, not a grown woman.

Some people believe a wheelchair user needs too much help, or that we can't do things. Instead of a well-educated, passionate asset to the company, I was seen as a list of demands to accommodate. I applied for nearly a hundred jobs. I got a dozen interviews, and no one callled me back. I felt hopeless, burnt out, and almost gave up. It's depressing to have the drive to work, but not being given the chance. I cried every day. It's an awful feeling.

With my current job, that all turned around for me. Rather than seeing my disability as an expensive problem, they considered my needs the same as any other employee. Everyone needs a desk; mine is adjustable for my wheelchair. Everyone needs the phone; I use a headset. Treating my accommodations as matter-of-fact and making sure I had what I need made me feel like a welcomed and valued part of the team right from the start.

People with disabilities are 26 percent of the population, but only 3 percent of employees. This month, let's normalize the employment of people with disabilities. Adding diversity to a team can only be a good thing. If you have questions about hiring disabled employees or working with a disability, call Society's Assets (800-378-9128). As the Center for Independent Living, we are here to support your employment goals and answer questions about benefits, technology, equipment, and advocacy.