The #IWantToWork coalition is thankful for the opportunity to educate members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly on what it’s like to live and want to work with a disability.
On September 13, I gave testimony to the House Labor and Industry Committee, telling its members how important it is for Pennsylvania to join the list of states that have changed policies and laws to become Employment First states. The House is considering legislation, HB 2130, to provide better supports for people with disabilities in gaining competitive, integrated employment.
#IWantToWork testified along with self advocates, Disability Rights Pennsylvania, Arc of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Advocacy and Resources for Autism and Intellectual Disabilities (PAR), and state leaders.
Each speaker had about five minutes to present his or her perspective. As a young professional, member of the #IWantToWork coalition, and a self-advocate I found it is extremely difficult to fit everything that I wanted to say into five minutes.
My message to legislators was to help them understand how this bill could improve lives, as a member of the community of individuals with disabilities.
I wanted them to understand that in America only 18 percent of people with disabilities are employed, that leaves 69 percent who are unemployed but are actively searching and trying to prepare for employment.
I wanted the Labor and Industry Committee to know that we are fighting a battle every day to maintain the services that we need to survive yet trying to find purpose in our lives.
I want them to understand that disability does not equal unemployable but employment should not mean completely abled. Just because we need help with something does not mean that we can’t do anything.
Unfortunately, over many years, well-meaning legislation and changes in the system intended to help people with disabilities have reinforced the stereotypes that you are either disabled or employed or you need assistance or you are employed. Our system is not set up to accommodate humanity, the imperfect, complicated, changing dynamics of life.
Through Employment First Pennsylvania, I hope that we can start shifting legislation and mindsets that people can both have disabilities and be employed at the same time, it does not have to be one or the other. Further, having a job should not infer that an individual does not need assistance such as Medicaid.
As a community, individuals with disabilities need to be seen as valuable assets to communities and businesses. The only way that we can do this is by being a part of the community and business world. Through Employment First Pennsylvania I believe that this shift in society’s understanding of disability can be made.
I did my best in five minutes, but I am not sure that I could have conveyed all of those thoughts and feelings or convince them how important Employment First is for people with disabilities.
While I did my best in five minutes, you can do so much more. Please continue to work with your legislators. Talk to them about the importance of employment for all and how Employment First Pennsylvania can make a change difference.
We were thrilled and grateful to have the Secretaries from the Labor & Industry, Human Services, and Education testify with us, showing dynamic cooperation in support of this legislation. We are also grateful for the ongoing support that the PA legislation has had for the employment of people with disabilities.
By Dr. Josie Badger
#IWantToWork Campaign Manager