The term ‘Employment First’ in Arizona means that competitive integrated employment is the expectation for all Arizonans who have a disability. But how do we instill in people — those both in and out of the disability community — a certain, specific, expectation?
Maybe we start with the belief that people who have disabilities — whether they have a significant disability or a minor need — can work when given the right supports and services, and with the right attitude and high expectations from parents, family members, teachers, employers, providers, and themselves.
In our lead article, we discuss 504 plans as they are commonly used in schools to provide accommodations and other services for students who have disabilities so they can access a free appropriate public education. It is important to acknowledge that in addition to non-discrimination in schools, section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 provides for workplace accommodations and protections from discrimination in the employment of people with disabilities.
Nearly 50 years ago the stage was being set to realize a dream that we still have today, that people with disabilities can work. Today, people with disabilities do work; however, at a nationwide rate (38.9%) that lags far behind that of people without disabilities (78.6%). In Arizona, the employment rate for individuals with Intellectual and/or Developmental Disabilities is a mere 22%. [reference]
One of the six stated purposes of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is, “to ensure that children with disabilities have available to them a free and appropriate public education … to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living.” [reference]
When we really think about it, isn’t the sole purpose of Pre-K–12-grade education to prepare all students for further education, employment and independent living?
As a parent of a child who has a significant disability, holding an unwavering belief that my child will work can be a tall order some days. When I do find myself starting to waver, I remind myself of the things that I can do, day in and out, to support this belief:
- Participate as a partner in meetings that determine supports and services to ensure focus on employment skills
- Have and model a positive attitude toward achieving employment
- Have high expectations of my child and the educators, therapists, and professionals tasked with preparing my child for future education, employment, and independent living
- Remember that protections and procedural safeguards are in place to help my child when barriers crop up
- Keep at the top of my mind the importance of my role as my child’s first teacher, biggest cheerleader, and best advocate