Barriers to Inclusion Part 3: Employment

In the 2018 fiscal year, 16 percent of Minnesotans with disabilities who received state services worked in the community alongside people without disabilities.  Chris Serres, Star Tribune, 3/16/19

How is this real? That number needs to be a hell of a lot higher than 16%. I am NOT one of the 16% by the way… although I did get paid to be a keynote speaker a year ago. That was my first and only paid work.

We have to rethink what employment looks like and be open to a variety of work options for people with a wide variety of abilities. For example, I want a part-time job with the option to work from home. I love to write and advocate for disability rights and am good at public speaking. I love testing out assistive technology, applications, and pretty good at using WordPress. I have a lot to offer, it just takes me longer to do what I want to do.

I think it’s time to rethink traditional college and how some of us with disabilities can get our first jobs – especially those of us with severe physical disabilities. I’ve written about this before, but the amount of time and energy for me to take just 1 college course is a lot. One college course means that I have very little time for doing anything else like writing in my blog, getting out in the community, advocating for disability rights, or more importantly going to concerts. I’m not sure it’s the best use of my time and would take me about 8 years to get an Associate’s degree. So, what kid of job am I going to get without a degree? Or do I need to create my own kind of work because when I’m not a college student, I don’t get to do internships or have those other entry points into the writing or communications work I’d like to do.

Smiling Jennie Delisi, Jay Wyant, Kris Schulze and Justin Smith

Let’s all get more creative and figure out how we can connect people with jobs, especially those of us who aren’t following traditional paths.

Read the article Minnesotans with disabilities fight barriers to inclusion, unfilled promises by Chris Serres. Really, read it right now! And share with all of your friends, family and random strangers!

And read the first two parts of my Barriers to Inclusion blog post week. Really, read them right now! And share with all of your friends, family and random strangers!

Barriers to Inclusion Part 1: Inclusion

Barriers to Inclusion Part 2: Caregivers

Here are a couple of  posts from a younger me related to college and work:

20

Inclusion in Action

Random Thoughts

Justin in wheelchair with movie lights, 2 men looking at him with video camera

 

20

I turned 20 years old this week. A couple years ago, I thought that after high school, I would go to college. Get my Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree. And then get a job as a writer or journalist. Here’s the thing, I’ve started taking some college classes. Two worked out pretty well – got A’s. I also tried to take an online class which didn’t work out as well and I ended up dropping. The amount of writing required for that online course would have taken me countless hours to keep up with. What would have taken many students a couple hours a day, probably would have meant 40-50 hours a week for me – for just one class.

I am now grappling with a dilemma. Do I go to college? Or do I look at other online courses like through Coursera or EdX to keep learning even though it wouldn’t be working towards a college degree? Or do I find a job or volunteer work to start getting work experience? This past 2 years, I’ve had fantastic opportunities as a public speaker. Would people want me as a public speaker, if I’m not also a college student? Was that part of my story that people were interested in?

My family and I are struggling with what are the options for me with what I love to do and what I’m able to do – because honestly it’s difficult for me to communicate quickly and often times people don’t take the time to wait for me to say what I want to say – so where are those opportunities to work or participate in my community like I’d like to when it’s this difficult to communicate? What does a job for me look like where I can interact with others to do the things I love to do? How do I work towards independence if I’m hanging out at home every day? Because, that’s what I’ve been doing lately, and it’s not working.

I really love public speaking about inclusion and accessibility. I love advocating for disability rights. I love writing even though it takes me a long time. I love to share my voice with the world. I love my volunteer work as a mentor to an elementary student who has cerebral palsy and is learning to use a communication device and power chair.

We know some of the next steps. I need to get connected with Vocation Rehab Services to find out what they can offer. I need to reach out to different advocacy organizations to see if there might be volunteer work or internships that might work for me. I need to meet with my social worker to make sure the supports I need are in place so that I can keep working towards my goals.

So, I’m 20 years old. I feel confused, floundering, like I’m trying to get to the top of a long flight of stairs in my wheelchair – not sure what’s at the top of the stairs or how to get there.

Thank you, Dad!

People may not always realize that family life might look a little different when someone in the family has a disability. My dad has been there for me from day one and is not only my dad, but also my main caregiver. He has been home full-time for the past 2 years. During that time, we’ve been figuring out how and what I need to live as an independent adult. He was there with me through every weekend of Partners in Policymaking. He even got to be my helper at college when we couldn’t find a daytime personal care attendant.

Justin in wheelchair, dad holding Justin's foot

My dad fixes and troubleshoots issues with all of my equipment – from wheelchair, to communication device, to shower chair, to wheelchair lifts and ramps. He’s the best cook ever. Seriously, his homemade pizza is amazing! He is there for me for all medical appointments and holding tight during some of my scarier and more painful stays in the hospital. Over the years, he has carried me to the tops of fire towers, lighthouses, onto sandy beaches, swimming in oceans, to wheelchair-impossible corners of Yellowstone and other parks to see waterfalls or other natural wonders – he would make sure I got to experience everything I wanted to experience even when there were barriers in the way.

Dad holding Justin on beach by young boy

I think sometimes people assume that moms are doing everything… in our family, it’s always been both of my parents working together and holding on tight as we go through all the curve balls that life throws at us. I am so lucky to have such loving parents.

Justin in gait trainer giving high five to his dad on accessible baseball field

On this Father’s Day, I am holding on to love and letting my dad know that even though it’s not always very easy, and it may not be the path he had expected, that what he does each and every day rocks. I am who I am today, because he has been there for me through all the crappy times and through the awesome times. I love you, dad!