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National Disability Employment Awareness Month

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, an annual campaign that challenges us to talk about and celebrate the many and varied contributions of our country’s workers with disabilities. The 2019 theme is “The Right Talent, Right Now.”

The history of National Disability Employment Month dates back to 1945, when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week of October “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” In 1962, the word “physically” was removed to acknowledge the employability of individuals with all types of disabilities. Then in 1988, Congress expanded the week to a month and changed the name to what we have today. Each year, we spend time recognizing that inclusion in the workplace is good for all. It is good for employees; it is good for employers; and it is good for our community.

2019 has been a very good year for people who want to work in Allen County. We have 121 individuals working in competitive jobs. We also serve workers in supported employment positions. These individuals continue to work toward a goal of full competitive employment. We are very proud of the partnerships we have in place to help individuals reach their goal to become employed. The progress made in the past 25 years is amazing, leaping to new heights for career exploration, discovery, and placement opportunities. We believe that 121 is the highest number of people we have served working in competitive employment in the history of the agency. That is so exciting!

Talking with Jim, a man I have known for many years, brought this to life for me. I asked about a job he started in March of 2019. His face turned into a big smile. He explained that he is employed six hours per week at Chamberlain Huckeriede Funeral Home, entering data. Jim hopes to work more hours some day, but for now he is very happy. Currently, a job coach assists Jim – until specialized equipment can be obtained. It has been many years since he has had a competitive wage job that is fully inclusive. You see, Jim has multiple disabilities and many would not be able to see the abilities he has beyond his electric wheelchair and adapted devices.

Our SSA Director, Melodie Conley, has spent more than 25 years in the employment aspect of our field. Recently, she brightened as she told me about John, who has wanted to work in a competitive job for many years. In the past, community employers weren’t ready for John, due to communication barriers. However, 2019 was the year. With the training and support of his coworkers, John is successfully working at Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken. John’s face lights up when he has his uniform on, looking sharp for work.

There are many stories like these, and we continue to celebrate each small victory. On October 10, we joined the Allen County Commissioners to officially proclaim October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month in Lima/Allen County.

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