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Online forum to acknowledge seen, unseen disabilities

Note: This is the first story in a series related to National Disability Employment Awareness Month

For many people across the country, there is something empowering about having a rewarding job and being employed. From giving purpose to proving one’s skills, a job can provide a sense of worth and bring motivation and pride to many people.


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This is all the more true for individuals with disabilities.

Throughout the month of October, the U.S. will observe National Disability Employment Awareness Month and the value and contributions individuals with disabilities can provide to a work place.

“People with disabilities are experienced problem solvers with a proven ability to adapt,” Office of Disability Employment Policy Deputy Assistant Secretary Jennifer Sheehy said in a press release issued by the U.S. Department of Labor. “Now more than ever, flexibility is important for both workers and employers. National Disability Employment Awareness Month celebrates the ingenuity people with disabilities bring to America’s workplaces.”

The year marks the 75th anniversary of NDEAM and the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a landmark law that prohibited discrimination based on a disability and imposed accessibility requirements on public buildings.

Locally, Workforce Solutions Texoma has held a forum with area employers and experts on disabilities in the workplace. However, WST has chosen to convert the annual forum to an online event, which will take place at 11:30 a.m. Oct. 8. The event will see the return of attorney John Hagan, who spoke at last year’s forum about the legal aspects of employment for those with disabilities.

“He brings a lot to the table because he can talk about specific scenarios dealing with the disability issues in the work place,” WST Executive Director Janie Bates said.

Bates said there are many misconceptions about employing people with the disabilities. The first, and most prominent, is how rare disabilities are, Bates said.

“Most people have some form of issue,” Bates said. “If you were to ask most people about disabilities, the first thing they jump to are the physical disabilities but in reality we have a lot of invisible disabilities. Someone might have a learning disorder, for instance.”

“Many people don’t see these things as disabilities, but they really may be according the ADA,” Bates continued.”We always tell employers that you may think you have nobody with disabilities but chances are you have many people that do.”

Another misconception is that it is difficult or expensive to provide accommodations for people with disabilities. In many cases, these accommodations can be fairly inexpensive or cost nothing at all. As an example, Bates said someone with mobility issues may simply need furniture rearranged, or something as simply as raising a monitor.

In other cases, programs exist to help offset these costs, Bates said.

In addition to income, Bates said having a job is empowering to many people with disabilities, including herself.

For the past eight years, Bates has used an electric wheelchair for mobility. Despite this, Bates said she is happy to be go into work every day with the Texas Workforce Commission.

“It would have been a huge blow to me if I had to give up my job when I gave up my job,” she said. “I think having a job provides a purpose and that is what is important for a lot of people.

“I’ve had people ask me before why I don’t quit work and live on disability. Why would I want to do that? I love my job. I love to work.”

While the purpose of October’s events is to bring public awareness to the topic of employment for those with disabilities, Bates said she hopes to be able to send the message that jobs are out there for those who want them.

“I know there is a lot of people out there with disabilities who think no one would hire them,” she said. “I think it is important for people with disabilities to know there are employment options out there and employers who are friendly to workers with disabilities.”

Michael Hutchins is the local government reporter for the Herald Democrat. He can be reached at [email protected].

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