This October marks the 70th annual National Disability Employment Awareness Month, which celebrates the abilities and contributions of America’s workers with disabilities. This month also marks Perkins School for the Blind’s announcement of its new Pre-Employment Program (PEP), designed to help students who are blind transition into rewarding careers.
The program, which begins January 2016, will focus on self-awareness, career exploration and job-seeking skills for teens and young adults. Weekly sessions will feature a diverse team of speakers from Perkins and the business world, who will share their professional expertise with students. At the end of 10 sessions, students will leave with an action plan, a career portfolio and a professional online presence.
We asked three of the experts involved in the Pre-Employment Program to talk about why PEP is important, what students who are blind need to know to find a job and how hiring employees who are disabled benefits everyone.
Karen Wolffe, expert on career counseling for people who are blind
I’ve provided guidance on this program, based on my experience creating employability skills curricula for people with blindness. My advice to students in the Pre-Employment Program: work hard and treat this like a first job. Maintain your career portfolio and monitor your action plan. Stay connected with your network of peers, employers and instructors. It’s your job to be prepared; what we really want to focus on is ability.
That’s why Disability Employment Awareness Month is important, because it calls attention to people who are traditionally overlooked. Employers are tuned into diversity, but it’s important for them to understand diversity in the workplace is inclusive of people who are blind. We are asking employers to hire competent people with abilities – who just happen to be blind.
Lydia Greene, Vice President of Human Resources & Diversity, Tufts Health Plan
I believe Tufts can make a difference on this team. We also provide Perkins’ healthcare plan, participate in the annual Jobs Fair and hosted a Perkins intern last summer. I advise students to make strong connections and make the most of their opportunities. When you interview, be curious and speak confidently. Don’t be afraid to discuss your disability, what you can do and what you need help with.
Employers are more aware now, but Disability Employment Awareness Month is still not really on everyone’s radar. We all can do a lot more. Hiring people with disabilities is good for employee engagement; it creates loyalty. Who doesn’t know someone with a disability? It’s also imperative for companies, like Tufts, who are government contractors. Our directive is that 7 percent of our employees should be people with disabilities. And government contractors tend to set trends for the larger business world. It’s good news for people with disabilities, because there will be more jobs.
Oswald “Oz” Mondejar, Senior Vice President of Mission & Advocacy, Partners Continuing Care, Inc.
My lifelong passion is workforce development, building bridges to employment for people of all abilities by removing barriers and demystifying hiring people with disabilities. This program will introduce young people to workplace culture, and help them build technical and social skills and confidence. I advise students to emphasize their abilities and familiarize themselves with the cultures of their target businesses. When you get an opportunity, be reliable and go beyond expectations.
The momentum of inclusion in hiring practices is growing, and this is why Disability Employment Awareness Month is important. It helps create awareness, recognizes what we’re doing well and also highlights that we’re not doing enough. For companies, hiring people with disabilities is good business practice. People with disabilities, such as blindness, have spent their lives finding new and creative ways to get the job done. Smart companies know that clearing the barriers for talented staff clears the path to success for all.
The Pre-Employment Program is open to students and young adults ages 15-22. Learn more at Perkins.org/gotowork.