By Miriam Hertz
How does the Disability Action Center (DAC) assist people with disabilities to become employed and then stay employed? DAC assists through empowering. We empower consumers with disabilities to themselves lead the way because, ultimately, consumers are responsible for their own lives. Before we at DAC can aid them to go further, consumers first must educate us on where they are right now in their journeys toward safety and security and toward stable work and living as independently as they wish. I think it is likely that people must have safety and security before they are able to fight for their civil right to protection from job discrimination.
We at DAC can support an individual with disability by remembering and “feeling back.” I, myself, remember when I was denied jobs that would have me talking with people (although talking with—and stuttering at—people is one of my favorite things). Now, I feel back to how I was affected by job discrimination, recalling those tender learning experiences. What knowledge and skills did I acquire, so that I could advocate for myself? Now I am able to guide DAC consumers in gaining the knowledge and skills they need in order to advocate for themselves and take control of their lives.
And so we at DAC become peer mentors—individuals with disability who guide other individuals with disability. DAC assists consumers experiencing employment discrimination with accessing Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act, from knowledge of workplace reasonable accommodations to the know-how to lodge a discrimination complaint. We at DAC also mentor the skills, including communication skills, organizational skills, and technology skills, that we gained to solve the problems of our own workplace struggles. And then there is health care and insurance and the other pieces that we all best have in place to stay employed. For example, can DAC guide a working consumer to acquiring Medicaid for Workers with Disabilities?
I ended last month’s piece with a few words about the group – or macro – approach to answer employment issues facing people with disabilities. Government policies, including those that strengthen employment, are generally implemented through law. These policies include anti discrimination protections like the ADA, and income supports like SSI and vocational training programs like Ticket to Work. There are also policy initiatives that support keeping people working, such as childcare for working parents and health care, including Medicaid for Workers with disabilities.
Next Month: more about social programs to keep people with disabilities working.