One man and three women, one of whom is in a wheelchair, seated at a table and talking.

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

I’ve worked in the disability employment policy arena for more than 20 years, and a lot has changed in this time. Looking back, the progress I’m most thrilled about isn’t just the policy action we’ve seen. Rather, it’s the significant shift in how we as a nation talk about disability and employment.

Today, disability has rightfully taken its place in the larger conversation about workplace diversity. Leading companies are now actively working to align diversity with their corporate brand, both internally and externally. This is because they know that inclusion works. They know that groups representing a range of perspectives outperform those with superior, but similar, skill sets. And they know that, as one of the nation’s largest minority groups, people with disabilities are an essential voice to have at the table.

Reflecting this perspective, #InclusionWorks will be the theme for National Disability Employment Awareness Month 2016.  NDEAM is a nationwide campaign that celebrates the contributions of workers with disabilities and educates about the value of a diverse workforce inclusive of their skills and talents. Although not observed until October, we announce the annual theme each spring to help with advance event planning.

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Positive Portrayals of Disability in Dance

Jerron Herman, Professional Dancer and Writer

By Guest Blogger Jerron Herman, Professional Dancer and Writer

I grew up with a desire to be an artist; I also grew up having cerebral palsy, often complicating that dream because no one was like me succeeding as one. There was writer and painter Christy Brown, but he was dead! I remember a well-meaning high school friend questioning my desire to be on Broadway, even in light of my freshly printed acceptance letter from New York University. They said they just didn’t see me actually being onstage. It’s a common story that we can point to as the reason people with disabilities ought to be more out there, but that narrow perception isn’t the problem because people with disabilities are gaining tangible ground in being visible. Our next step as a culture is to open up the spectrum of “disability” so no one undermines it. The best positive portrayal of a person with a disability, then, is the truest portrayal. This has become evident over the last four years with my job as a principal dancer for one of the leading physically integrated dance companies in the world, Heidi Latsky Dance (HLD).

In my time with HLD I’ve been profiled, interviewed, reviewed, and applauded for my work in the company. I was at first very shocked by all the attention, but then realized our society needs to be introduced to dynamic images of people with disabilities. Within the growing industry of dance and disability there is a tendency to only show the rock ‘em/sock ‘em rigor of an intense wheelchair dance or a drastic feat of athleticism from an amputee while leaving out the quiet parts, or it’s a totally sentimental piece without edge. To make dance and disability legitimate within the dance world we must showcase the breadth of it and not rest on either side. At HLD we attempt to show ferocity and rigor, but also vulnerability. When a person walks away from our work we want them to expand their understanding of beauty; we ultimately want them to see humanity.

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Spotlight on: AbleThrive

Brittany Déjean, Founder and Executive Director, AbleThrive

By Guest Blogger Brittany Déjean, Founder and Executive Director, AbleThrive

It took me eight years to realize that luck had played a huge part in my family’s ability to adapt and live well after my dad broke his neck in a car accident. In a rehabilitation hospital in southwest China, I was talking to a man who had broken his back. He had full upper mobility and was even able to bear weight, as I saw when I met him. A quick assessment of his physical mobility led me to believe he’d be fine in his life after the hospital. At that point, my dad was already living independently, driving and working full-time as an engineer with much less mobility, paralyzed from the chest down and unable to move his fingers. To me, there was nothing keeping this man from getting his life back on track too.

But to him, his life as he knew it was over. “When I get home, I’ll spend the rest of my life in bed.” With his inaccessible environment and reduced mobility, he resigned himself to a bleak future without question. I was taken aback. It was the first time I was forced to look at my family’s situation from an objective perspective. Why didn’t we give up on an active and meaningful life for my dad and our family?

When my dad was injured, we happened to live an hour away from one of the top 12 spinal cord injury hospitals in the United States. We quickly met others in our situation who were years ahead of us, showing us what was possible by living their own lives and guiding us on our own journey. My dad learned how to hold a fork without adaptive equipment from another quadriplegic there. He learned he could drive because someone like him wheeled into the rehab gym with car keys around his neck.

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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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