Autism and Access to the American Dream

Dr. Scott Michael Robertson, policy adviser in the department’s Office of Disability Employment Policy.

Editor’s Note: This blog was cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Labor’s blog.

Earlier this month, President Barack Obama issued a proclamation to recognize World Autism Awareness Day 2016. This proclamation noted the importance of making sure autistic Americans have a chance put their talents and skills to work in good jobs. It also emphasized the need to “break down barriers to competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities, including people with autism.”

This message aligns with ongoing work of the federal Advisory Committee on Increasing Competitive Integrated Employment for Individuals with Disabilities managed by the Department of Labor. It also resonates with me personally because of barriers I faced as an autistic adult. I have experienced negative attitudes and persistent obstacles to career success that tested my resiliency and resolve.

Before starting college, I faced disbelief in my potential for academic success at school because of projections based on my IQ score rather than my aptitude. Undaunted, I earned an undergraduate degree with honors and completed graduate education. Yet I still faced challenges in developing my career because I lacked specialized supports and resources to address challenges unique to autism.

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“Authenticity Is Important to Me”

Guest Blogger Becky Curran, Coordinator of EEO and Diversity, SAG-AFTRA

By Guest Blogger Becky Curran, Coordinator of EEO and Diversity, SAG-AFTRA

As coordinator of equal employment opportunity and diversity at Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), I work alongside my colleagues to increase job opportunities for our diverse pool of members. In my workplace, people refer to me as Becky. Being a little person helps me bring a diverse perspective to the job, and it’s just a part of who I am.

I’m only one of 30,000 people with dwarfism living in the United States. The day I was born was the first time that my parents were in a hospital room with a dwarf or little person. Previously, they only saw little people in movies, on television and in the circus. Since 80 percent of dwarfs are born to average height parents, this is a common situation for most new parents of little people. This means that they’re faced with extreme fear. Will their child be able to lead a fulfilling and independent life? Will they be able to handle potential judging, bullying and teasing almost every single day in public? This experience also raises the question of adoption. I’ve heard of situations where the hospital staff members even recommend for new parents of newborns with dwarfism to consider putting their baby up for adoption. Their decisions are based solely on what they see in the media. If they saw something positive, they’re most likely going to feel encouraged and if they saw something negative, they feel discouraged.

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Chasing Dreams

Chisa Merriweather hugs her son, Chase

By Guest Blogger Chisa Merriweather, Blogger at ChaseUrDream.com

December 14, 2013 was a cold and snowy morning. I woke up beside Chase in the ICU at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to the faint sounds of medical monitors, but somehow they sounded different that morning. The room he had spent the last two months in seemed calmer. I glanced over at my husband, Chad, who was sitting on a couch by the window. He looked up at me and whispered, “We’re finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel”. The day prior, Chase had undergone his last surgery for 2013: the amputations of both his hands and feet.

The days of feeling sorrowful about Chase’s situation were over! I had cried my last tear and we were now ready to help Chase write his next chapter. This is how it all began.

While on what was to be a quick getaway family vacation to Disney World in October of 2013, our son, Chase, was suddenly stricken with a near-deadly strand of the flu virus which quickly sent him into septic shock. Chase was hospitalized at the Florida Hospital for Children for nearly a month. Just as we thought things were improving, Chase suffered a brain hemorrhage and underwent emergency brain surgery and was also on dialysis. While we were very thankful for the tremendous work and effort from the staff at Florida Hospital for Children for saving our son’s life, we wanted to get Chase back home and provide a bit of normalcy for our oldest son, CJ. In November 2013, the doctors in Florida assisted in making the trip home possible. Chase was now in stable condition and was able to be airlifted to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, but was still in a sedated state.

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The Disabled Parenting Project: An Online Community by and for Parents and Prospective Parents with Disabilities

Guest Blogger Robyn Powell, Team Leader at the Disabled Parenting Project

By Guest Blogger Robyn Powell, Team Leader, Disabled Parenting Project

Last month, the Disabled Parenting Project (DPP) launched its website. The DPP is an online, interactive community for sharing experiences, advice and conversations among disabled parents as well as those considering parenthood. While there are other websites out there that address certain aspects of parenting with a disability, the DPP is the first and only online community to be developed by and for the entire cross-disability parenting community, embracing the disability community’s important mantra: “nothing about us, without us!”

A little more than 25 years ago, the ADA was passed with the goal of ensuring “equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency.” While we are not quite there, we have had many successes. Today, we enjoy increased opportunities to further our education, live in our community, and secure employment. Many in the disability community are now choosing to raise families. Despite their increasing numbers, parents with disabilities face notable disparities and are significantly more likely to experience exclusion, stigma, and discrimination. In particular, disabled parents lack venues for sharing information and developing their voices and advocacy skills as parents. In fact, the National Council on Disability (NCD), an independent federal agency that advises the President and Congress on disability policy, noted in its 2012 report, Rocking the Cradle: Ensuring the Rights of Parents with Disabilities and their Children:

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Accessible Workplace Technology: Signed, Sealed, Delivered

Meeting Stevie Wonder at CSUN in San Diego on March 23.

Editor’s Note: This blog was cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Labor’s blog.

Last week, I had a brush with a bona fide music legend — the great Stevie Wonder. Was I starstruck? Of course. I’ve long admired his musical accomplishments and advocacy for people with disabilities. His appearance at the Grammy Awards in February highlighted once again the need to improve accessible technology, particularly in the workplace.

What brought me, Stevie Wonder and hundreds of other accessibility advocates together was the International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference. Commonly known as “CSUN” in honor of its sponsor, California State University, Northridge, the event is a who’s who of people leading the charge on accessible information and communications technology (known as ICT). I was honored to serve as this year’s keynote speaker, which gave me the chance to share why the Labor Department sees the need for accessible ICT in the workplace.

To put it simply, our commitment to accessible technology is about basic civil rights, as well as the collective productivity of America’s workforce. That’s because inaccessible technology — from websites, to software applications, to online job applications — is preventing many people with disabilities from doing their jobs effectively, or even applying for jobs in the first place.

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