1. Changing Perspectives

    NDEAM Cover Photo

    In the wake of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) and its mission to raise awareness about disability employment issues I am reminded of a quote from Wayne W. Dyer - “Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.” It is in great consciousness that I say, we must change the way we view people with disabilities and work. People with disabilities face challenges to employment, not only because their disability MAY impact work but the truly debilitating barrier that people with disabilities face when it comes to work is the way employers and others view them and their perceptions about what people with disabilities can and can’t do. It is this reason that I say, no actually, not that I say but that I DECLARE we must change the way we view people with disabilities and work.

    People with disabilities are people first. Having a disability is simply one attribute of a person’s overall character, it is NOT an identifier, and it is NOT a characterizer. Disability is like a hair style, it is one piece of a person’s overall appearance, and it does not describe or define the person wholly.

    We need to change the way that we look at people with disabilities, if we stop looking at their limits, at the things that they cannot do, and instead look at the things they can do, perhaps the thing (people that we are looking at) changes. Instead of being the person who uses a wheelchair, they become the person who has a degree in astrophysics. Instead of being the person who can’t see, they become the person who produces amazing sculptures. Instead of being the person who has Autism, they become the person whose focus and dedication is unparalleled to others. If we choose to look at people through the lens of ability then the picture changes. It is this lens that we should all be looking through when considering work for anyone. We should look at strengths, not deficits for if the strengths (Knowledge, Skills and Abilities) are there the deficits can be addressed.

    As someone who is personally touched by disability and one who works to accommodate oneself daily in work, whether that’s getting up and walking in circles every few minutes or who never works without music playing or who requests extra time to read long assignments due to struggles staying on task – I still have great knowledge and expertise to contribute and I know this. I choose not to see what my label is; I see what I have to offer and what I contribute. So I challenge you, the next time you encounter someone who experiences disability, try changing the way you look at them. Don’t think about their disability, think about their ability.


  2. A Sense of Belonging

    Everyone has a favorite Uncle, right? Well, mine is ‘Big D’ – ‘Big’ because he is 6 foot 4 inches tall and well, BIG! The “D” stands for David. Whenever I visited Big D as a kid, he would give us bear hugs and take all the cousins around the neighborhood to pet the dogs he walked. He may have been big, but he was sweet natured and he paid attention to us. His number one passion was the Chicago Bears and he never seemed to mind that my sister and I had not a clue about football. Big D also had another passion: work. He would be right in the middle of a family cookout or shopping trip, and all of a sudden jump up and say, “Gotta go to work!”

    Jamie Robinson and 'Big D'

    It never fazed me or my cousins that Big D had challenges (later we learned the term ‘developmental disabilities’) – he was playful and we knew he was a good worker. He not only had a full-time job at a lumber yard (with full benefits, my Dad told me), but he actually had five jobs! Along with the lumber yard, he was a dog-walker, mowed lawns, shoveled snow and delivered groceries. He probably had other jobs that I didn’t know about, but I always wondered – what was his motivation for working all the time? Was it money, so he could buy tickets to a Bears game? It wasn’t until much later in life when I got the answer.

    This past year, Big D had to move for the first time in his life to a different state. He lost all natural supports that helped him thrive in his five jobs. He had to start over, at age 62. During this transition, Big D had a very difficult time not working. He became sad and withdrawn. I called him every week to check in and tried to offer encouragement that he would get a job soon. During one call, I teased him, “Why do you want to get back to work so quickly, just enjoy the break?” He mumbled back, but I heard him loud and clear, “I don’t want to sit home all day and do nothing… I want to talk to people… help someone… do something.”

    BINGO! Big D worked because he felt needed, valued, and even more than that, he felt part of something. Whether or not you have a disability doesn’t matter, work offers so many of us a sense of worth, value and most of all, a sense of belonging.

    Big D did get another job working at a lumberyard and he really likes his new job coach. He has cut down on all the side jobs (except for lawn mowing which he does for free), so he can ride his bike more and stay healthy. And in case you were curious, he still talks my ear off about the Chicago Bears, even though I have no clue!

    Jamie Robinson serves as Manager of Financial Empowerment and Workforce for National Disability Institute. 

  3. Disability Etiquette in the Workplace - Publication of the Week

    JAN's Disability Etiquette in the Workplace Cover Photo

    We’ve reached the halfway point of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). While we have no doubt many of you are in the midst of celebrating NDEAM and raising awareness on the skills and accomplishments of workers with disabilities, we thought it would be of a benefit to highlight a succinct report helpful to employers and employees looking to join the NDEAM initiative by building a more inclusive workplace.

    Look no further than Job Accommodation Network’s (JANDisability Etiquette in the Workplace, We have selected it as our Publication of the Week. This easy to read report provides even easier to institute strategies to foster disability inclusion in employment settings.

    Whether you are currently or haven’t yet started celebrating NDEAM, JAN’s report is an excellent resource to highlight during October, bolster opportunities for people with disabilities, and/or get you/your organization started on the right footing for NDEAM.

  4. I’m In To Hire - Website of the Week

    As we celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) and raise awareness about the innumerable talents and skills workers with disabilities have and contribute to workplaces all over the U.S., individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) still find it difficult to secure employment. 

    That is why we have selected Best BuddiesI’m In To Hire as our Website of the Week. A movement to unify the voices of employers, employees and similar-minded individuals in support of hiring the 85 percent of people with developmental disabilities who do not have a paid community job, I’m In To Hire offers numerous resources, fact sheets and materials to improve employment outcomes for people with iDD. 

    So, join us in celebrating NDEAM, and recognizing the important work and professional achievements of people with disabilities, by pledging #ImInToHire.

  5. National Disability Institute’s 2014 Election Checklist


    We are three weeks away from the November elections, mere days from determining the future direction of both the federal and state government’s approach to the blending and braiding of public and private resources to support improved employment and economic status for millions of American with disabilities.

    As you are likely aware, October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. President Obama in a recent proclamation challenged “all Americans to embrace the talents and skills that individuals with disabilities bring to our workplaces and communities.”

    In that spirit, Washington Insider offers you an election checklist to help inform you, coworkers, family members, friends and the general public about the policy direction and priorities of candidates seeking your vote. Please consider the following questions to ask at town hall events or write to the candidates and ask for a response in writing.

    Election 2014 Checklist

    Questions about Policy Direction and Priorities

    Gubernatorial Candidates

    1. People with disabilities in our state are 2.5 times more likely to be living at or below the poverty level as compared to their nondisabled peers. What policies would you change and priority actions would you take to improve the economic stability of working age adults with disabilities?
    2. Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act at the federal level sets affirmative obligations on federal contractors to proactively reach out and recruit, hire, accommodate and build career pathways for workers with disabilities. Section 503 rules propose a 7 percent benchmark for an inclusive workforce for federal contractors. Would you adopt a similar stand and create obligations for state contractors with annual reporting requirements to document progress being made?
    3. A number of states have created an Office of Financial Empowerment to better coordinate across state agencies the availability and integration of financial education and counseling on coaching services within social and human service delivery systems (TANF, Medicaid, Workforce Investment, Education). Would you establish an Office of Financial Empowerment, and what is your plan to improve the financial capability of low-income residents of the state to better manage debt and credit, take advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit and other favorable tax provisions and be protected against predatory lenders?
    4. As part of meeting the intent of the Supreme Court’s Olmstead decision, the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) have asked all states to rebalance their use of public resources to improve the availability of affordable community housing and long-term support services as well as needed services and supports to advance competitive integrated employment options and a better economic future. What are your plans to accelerate needed system changes to meet the Olmstead mandate for greater community supports and inclusion? What are your top three priorities for implementing an “Employment First platform?”

    Senate and Congressional Candidates

    1. Do you support the passage of the Achieving Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act?  Why has the bill not come to a vote on the House or Senate Floor despite overwhelming bipartisan support?
    2. Asset limits for eligibility for Social Security, Medicaid, Food Assistance and other public benefits is the equivalent of a life sentence to poverty. Would you support federal legislation to raise these asset limit tests for eligibility to public benefits to at least $10,000, so that economically vulnerable populations can at least have an emergency safety net for unexpected expenses related to housing, health care and other needs?
    3. Do you support continuation of subminimum wage labor rates currently allowed under Section 14c of the Fair Labor Standards Act? How would you join with other Members of Congress to end this policy and push for reforms?
    4. What other policies impacting people with disabilities and their families would be on your short list for reform?
    5. One in five families have a member with a disability. Disability cuts across race, gender, ethnicity, and age. Despite the diversity of the disability population, all have one characteristic in common: they are struggling with financial insecurity. How can the federal government government do better and achieve improved outcomes regarding participation in the economic mainstream for the disability community?

    Knowledge about your candidates’ priorities should help you decide who deserves your vote in November. If you receive responses to this sample list of questions, please share them with us. We will publicize the results.

  6. Work and Self Sufficiency

    While it’s true that I have a disability, I don’t think of myself as a “person with a disability.” It’s not how I define myself, although I do accommodate my disability every day… my accommodations are mostly if not entirely behind the scenes so most people don’t see them.

    There was absolutely a time in my life when my disability took front and center and was the number one defining characteristic about me. My life revolved around it, not that I wanted it to but what choice did I have? It was like having the worst conjoined twin ever – my disability was practically its own person, separate from the real me, but constantly with me, weighing me down.

    The main reason I rarely if ever think of myself as a “person with a disability” now is because of my employment – I’m doing work that I love and am good at and it pays the bills with enough left over to have a sense of financial security - and accommodating my disability is just something I do now like brushing my teeth or eating a meal. It is rote for me. As I look around at colleagues, friends and acquaintances who are working like I’m working, and I’ve talked to a lot of them about this, many of them don’t identify themselves as “A PERSON WITH A DISABILITY” either.

    WORK and SELF-SUFFICIENCY have a very powerful impact on identity and they are a huge factor in helping to turn DISABILITY into a side-detail, and NOT the primary defining characteristic of a person.

    Miranda Kennedy serves as the Director of Training and Senior Technical Advisor for the Disability Employment Initiative (DEI) Projects funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration (ETA) and the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) .

  7. Leading Practices on Disability Inclusion - Publication of the Week

    Leading Practices on Disability Inclusion Cover

    From its humble beginnings in 1945 to today’s groundswell of supporters, National Disability Employment Awareness Month’s (NDEAM) mission has been to raise awareness about disability employment issues, while at the same time celebrating the momentous achievements of American workers with disabilities. 

    In recognition of NDEAM, we have chosen the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Leading Practices on Disability Inclusion as our Publication of the Week. While some businesses are apprehensive to employ people with disabilities, this publication provides a sharp contrast, highlighting the numerous businesses and multi-billion corporations utilizing strategies to create a more inclusive workforce. 

    To that effect, the publication showcases a plethora of successful business that incorporate disability in all diversity and inclusion practices. From the CEO of a Fortune 100 company down to a small mom and pop store on Main Street, more and more employers are understanding the importance of recruiting, hiring and maintaining the best talent, regardless of disability.

    This eye-opening publication is the perfect resource of NDEAM. Companies like AT&T, Ernst & Young, Verizon and others can’t be wrong: workers with disabilities are ready and willing to work and can make an immediate impact in any job in any setting!

  8. ODEP’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month - Website of the Week

    ODEP's NDEAM webpage screen shot

    Happy National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM)! Ok, ok, ok… it may not be October 1st yet, which is the official launch of the NDEAM campaign, but we’re already looking ahead to tomorrow. That is why we have selected as our Website (Webpage) of the Week the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy’s (ODEP) NDEAM webpage.

    Stocked full of great information, resources and ideas to help spread the word on NDEAM, the page provides everything you possibility need and more to celebrate and participate in this year’s campaign.

    So, take some time to browse the webpage and get on board with the countless number of people, organizations and agencies celebrating NDEAM and recognizing the significant achievements and contributions of American workers with disabilities.

    Happy National Disability Employment Awareness Month Eve!  

  9. Social Security Disability Benefits - Publication of the Week

    Social Security Disability Cover

    Did you know a 20 year old has a 1-in-4 chance of becoming disabled prior to retirement? That’s a pretty scary thought, eh? Thankfully, however, there is Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which can help augment lost wages and assist beneficiaries weather the financial storm that comes with a disability.

    Today, our Publication of the Week, the Social Security Administration’s Social Security Disability Benefits, provides an overview and basic information on Social Security disability benefits, including the SSDI program. 

    So, while you may or may not be familiar with SSDI, it and the entire Social Security program has you covered. Because disability can affect anyone, and you never know if and when you’ll be “1-in-4.”

  10. Financial Opportunity for ALL: AFCPE®’s Commitment to the Disability Community

    Rebecca Wiggins Photo

    As a nonprofit professional organization, AFCPE’s mission is to educate financial counselors, coaches and educators in an effort to improve the economic wellbeing of all individuals and families worldwide. One of the most requested continuing education topics among our professionals has been around disabilities and/or families that have an individual with a disability. To us, this comes as no surprise! With the disability community including more than 54 million Americans, it is imperative financial professionals are equipped with the necessary tools to effectively communicate and educate this unique and growing demographic.

    Bridging the Gap

    We are thrilled to partner with National Disability Institute (NDI), an organization who shares in our mission and has the tools to help us bridge this gap. It is a gap that too often occurs in a meeting between a financial professional and a client with disabilities, or their family. It’s a gap that, in some instances, may discourage members of the disability community from reaching out to a financial counselor or coach when issues arise.

    With that in mind, AFCPE and NDI developed a three part webinar series to provide financial professionals with education around the Americans with Disability Act, highlight the variety of available public benefits and community resources, and connect disability service providers and their clients to financial professionals in their local community. The first webinar will take place on October 1, 2014 from 3:00 - 4:00PM. (ET), registration is still open. Webinars will be comprehensive in education, while also providing the opportunity for professionals to ask questions around these very important topics.

    As a supporter of the disability community, we hope you will share this educational opportunity with financial professionals in your community. The training is geared towards all financial professionals and is free and open to anyone who may benefit from this educational opportunity.

    Providing You with Opportunity and Resources

    AFCPE offers a number of resources that can benefit you – either as a professional working in the disability community, a person living with a disability or a caregiver of an individual with a disability.

    Connecting You with the Right Professional:

    If you are looking for a Financial Counselor or Coach, we can help. Our website allows you to search for a professional in your area. We also have a list of virtual counselors, many who specialize in Financial Issues Related to Disabilities and Caring for a Child or Adult with Disabilities.

    Educational Opportunities:

    Our professional counselors, coaches and educators share in our mission and are passionate about providing financial stability and independence for their clients. They are trained to work with each client as individual, which means understanding the unique situations, needs and values of each person. If you are interested in becoming an Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC) or learning more about other AFCPE designations, please visit our website or contact our Certification Program Coordinator.

    Rebecca Wiggins is the Executive Director of the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education® (AFCPE) and holds a Masters of Family Financial Planning from Kansas State University. She is deeply committed to AFCPE’s mission to build, support and ensure the integrity of the personal finance profession and improve the economic well-being of individuals and families worldwide. Connect with AFCPE onLinkedIn,Facebook or on Twitter (@afcpe).