By: David Ostrowski
This October marks the 75th observance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, a milestone that is being commemorated with a wide spectrum of events and activities, focused on the theme of “Increasing Access and Opportunity.” The slogan means many different things to many different people. Please allow me the opportunity share how it impacts my family.
As parents of a six-year girl, Colby, who has a significant form of non-verbal autism, my wife and I are not worried about saving for college. We do not have fantasies of our daughter becoming a neurosurgeon or corporate attorney or high school biology teacher. In short, we do not expect her ever to be financially independent.
But we do have hope that Colby can have access to a fulfilling career opportunity thanks to the phenomenal school that she has been attending for the past three years. It is here that students (aged 3-22) on the autism spectrum disorder learn, grow, and develop. Whether they communicate with limited verbal skills, or, in the case of our daughter, with electronic devices, the students work with dedicated teachers to reduce challenging behaviors and acquire the tools to one day become productive members of the national workforce. As students enter their late tweens and early twenties, the focus shifts towards developing vocational skills necessary for a wide range of jobs that keep America running.
Whether or not students are able to live and work independently, schools that focus on the needs of severely disabled children ensure that graduates have abundant opportunities for parlaying their developed skills towards succeeding in professional careers. Countless former students are currently serving as critical members of society through stocking shelves, bagging groceries, greeting visitors, and managing cash registers. It is through these schools that young adults with significant intellectual disabilities can realize their potential and find professional work that provides fulfillment, appropriate challenges, and, perhaps most importantly, enjoyment.
As the calendar soon flips to November and Halloween gives way to Election Day, the legacy of National Disability Employment Awareness Month endures … largely due to the schools that transform young adults with disabilities into highly functioning and valuable employees.