Disability Employment

SPARKLING — Kenny M. cleans during a shift at the Kokomo YMCA.

National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) is recognized nationally every October as a national campaign that raises awareness about disability employment issues and celebrates the many and varied contributions of America's workers with disabilities.

NDEAM's roots go back to 1945 when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week in October each year "National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week." In 1962, the word "physically" was removed to acknowledge the employment needs and contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities. In 1988, Congress expanded the week to a month and changed the name to "National Disability Employment Awareness Month." The theme for NDEAM this year is "America’s Workforce: Empowering All."

Yes, I know that was a lot of historical information, but I felt it was important to let you know exactly how long organizations like ours, and thousands of others around the country, have been fighting the good fight for those we have the privilege to serve.

At Bona Vista, we do this mainly through our WorkForce Diversity program (WFD), so let me give you a very brief overview of what they do. Employment Specialists at WFD work one-on-one with employers who need dependable job candidates any time of the year. They discover the open positions at the business and look to our persons served with the specific skill set that would best fit the job opening. They work diligently to make sure both the business and the persons served are happy with the partnership.

Individuals come to Bona Vista’s WorkForce Diversity program after being referred by the Indiana Vocational Rehabilitation Services. We work with the individual to discover what their skills, job goals, and strengths are in the workforce. We then work with them on job-seeking skills, job leads, and resume development. We want to make sure that our persons served are ready and confident when entering the job market. As an employer, don’t you wish all of your employees had such training before signing on?

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Individuals that WorkForce Diversity serves may have mental illness, developmental, intellectual, or cognitive disabilities, as well as physical issues, such as back or neck injuries, hearing impairment, or something totally different. We work with employers and clients to find a match that best allows them to work with their abilities – and not focus on their disability. For example, my friend Kenny M. works at the YMCA has a janitor (I’m not sure if that’s his official title, but you get the idea as to what he does). If you would have asked Kenny before he started working there what his dream job was, I can almost guarantee that he would have told you it was working as a janitor at the YMCA. And, he is so proud of himself. But, not nearly as proud as we are of him.

He worked on the skills needed to obtain employment in that field, he job shadowed at the YMCA to make sure it would be a good fit, and he participated in our Opportunity Knocks! program (and still does) to make sure that he was prepared and ready for community employment. So, when the time came, they offered him a position!

Individuals, like Kenny, are fully capable of holding down good jobs. Some may need small accommodations, but they are loyal and appreciative of the opportunity. Wouldn’t you like to be able to say that about all of your employees? They are loyal and appreciative. That’s what you get when you partner with Bona Vista’s WorkForce Diversity program.

If you are a business owner or thinking about how you could partner with us to “Empower All,” you don’t just have to take my word for it. I know there are many businesses in this community that would be more than willing to talk to you about their experiences with the participants in the program and the positive outcomes they have seen. I would love to put you in contact with them. It’s not only a benefit for the adults we serve, but also for the business who is lucky enough to have them.

For more information on the WorkForce Diversity program, you can call 765-454-5997 or email Vice President of Vocational and Day Services at mrfreeman@bonavista.org. As always, though, you are welcome to contact me – 765-457-8273 or abrantley@bonavista.org. Either one of us would be happy to give you a tour or stop by with information.