#NDEAM, From Awareness to ACTION

Welcome to October! In a year where I guess I’ll do well to post once per month, because we’re still largely living under the COVID caution flag so not much is happening. I’m anxiously watching as numbers again begin their descent, and praying that maybe this time will be for real, but with the coming holidays one never knows.
But I’m going to talk mostly in this post about National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). Or more specifically, I’ll muse on how we can begin to take that awareness and move the needle more towards action. Certainly there are big systemic barriers that make it difficult for us to overcome, but those are to a greater or lesser extent out of our control. I’ll spend most of my time thinking about that which I can control, and use an acronym of the word ACTION that popped into my head late one night. I’m especially feeling reflective as I’ve just completed my first full Jaws tutoring course with a student, the last session of which we spent talking amongst ourselves about what went well and what could use some work. I was relieved to discover that I was not the only one of the three tutors having the kinds of issues I was having, most notably ensuring that people had a basic knowledge of keyboard layout and could thus follow our instructions. Anyhow, here’s what I’ve thought of as it pertains to actions we can take to move ourselves toward a better career.
Acclimate: The first thing we need to do is to get used to the various types of technology and/or physical settings that a given line of work might require. I am not knocking manufacturing work such as that which I do, because as I’ve said before I know I’m fortunate to have it and it keeps the bills paid for many of us with disabilities. I’ve just heard via the SourceAmerica Twitter feed, (that’s the company which ultimately oversees most of these agencies that employ people with disabilities) that the number of employed blind persons has risen from 30 to 44%, largely due to such agencies. Compared to the regular population, that’s still a staggeringly low number of course. But it does mean that more of us are getting at least a basic chance to feel productive. But if you never get to experience other things, such as how to operate computers as one might in an office setting, then basic is what you are likely to be limited to. As the environment changes rapidly these days, having and augmenting any skill sets becomes more important.
Create: To do this, one has to first create a plan. How will I get said experiences. What do I think I might wanna do? What can I already do. I hope that I’m helping others in my own workplace to do this by so-called tutoring them, and of course it has the byproduct of helping me also as I have to really learn the ins and outs of Jaws and commonly used programs as well.
Translate: Once the plan is created, you have to take the most important step of turning those ideas into concrete action steps. This is the part where I usually get lost, and it is helping me tremendously to have a sort of mentor (the Workplace Development Specialist) who is willing to withstand all of my uncertainties and continue to gently propel me in the right direction. I hope it’s starting to pay off, and especially as I now have my new laptop rockin’ and rollin’. Even my writing may not be entirely done for, as this past Saturday I blew the dust off of my NaNoWriMo manuscript and have gotten to work on editing it. I hope to continue the story once I’m caught up and can remember what all it was about. Hey, I guess I can do it for the next NaNo, which is about to start in November.
Initiative: Anyhow, one is most able to carry out the action steps if one can find that initiative to persist through whatever. I’m starting to, finally, as I’ve also restarted attempts to take the 508 Trusted Tester Certification course online so that I might attain an accessibility position. Clearly I’m not sure exactly what I am going to do, but I know that whatever I choose will require a lot of drive.
Opportunity/Networking: I’m going to combine the last two, because of course they are related. If ever I do figure out exactly what I want to do, then I must both seek opportunities and try to get to know some people in the field in order to make them happen. This is usually the most difficult part for those of us with disabilities, s it can be hard to just convince people that our own knowledge, along with reasonable accommodations and massive advances in technology, mean that we can now do a wide variety of jobs as well as anyone else. I would never say I can do “everything,” but of course none of us can realistically do everything. It takes all of us doing different things to make the world go round, after all, so that’s perfectly fine.
So those are my thoughts as we move through this month of trying to increase employment for those of us with disabilities. Awareness is important, but I think that taking tentative but true steps toward fulfilment is even more helpful. And hopefully we’ll reach a day when writing these kinds of posts won’t even be necessary, because everyone is easily able to gain access to whatever avenue best fits their talents and matches how they wish to spend their time.

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