Working to change the game

Pushing to make workplaces more accepting of workers with disabilities

By Daniel Smrokowski

In October, we celebrated National Disability Employment Awareness Month, a time for us to learn about the many and varied contributions of workers with disabilities; a time to focus on an individual’s abilities and gifts; and a time when we educate our communities about how companies should see us as individuals who bring our individual skills and gifts to the workplace.

Take for example, one of my employers — this newspaper. In January 2014, the Bugle hired me as both a freelance reporter and a columnist. They recognized my skills as a journalist and didn’t see my disabilities as a barrier. This is one of many recent companies who are acknowledging how those of us with special needs can contribute to the workplace.

This year marks the 70th anniversary since the first observance of the National Disability Employment Awareness Month in 1945. The theme for this year is “My Disability is One Part of Who I Am,” according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy.  In celebration of this year’s theme, it’s vital that employers recognize that our disabilities are just one part of who we are. Employers need to learn about the various skills and gifts that we can offer the workforce. 

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to go on a job interview at a local video retail store. I was able to get this job interview because of being a client at the Helping Hand Center, a local agency that benefits children and adults with disabilities. After I received a phone call from the store’s manager, I called the community job placement coordinator at the Helping Hand Center. An hour before the job interview, we met at a nearby cafe to practice some mock interview questions.

This past summer, “The Shriver Report Snapshot: Insight Into Intellectual Disabilities in the 21st Century” reported that only 56 percent of Americans personally know someone with an intellectual disability, while 42 percent of Americans have no personal contact with a person with an intellectual disability. It was in partnership that The Shriver Report and Special Olympics launched a new challenge called “PLAY – Let’s Change The Game.” Its mission is to encourage all people to play, learn, accept and say “yes” together.  The goal is to change the world to have common ground among people of all abilities.

Similar to the new Let’s Change The Game campaign, the Best Buddies organization has a campaign to hire people with special needs. “I’m In To Hire” is Best Buddies’ new campaign that promotes the business benefits of hiring people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, according to the campaign’s website.  I’m In To Hire motivates employers to create a more inclusive workplace. 

This campaign was founded by Best Buddies International and supported by the Institute for Corporate Productivity. The I’m In To Hire campaign helps to unify the voices of employers and employees alike in support of hiring those of us with special needs. The campaign notes that 85 percent of people with developmental disabilities do not have a paid community job. The campaign aspires to change the world to see the value that we bring to the workforce.

Similar to the I’m In To Hire campaign, my goal through this column and through the podcasts at Special Chronicles, is to unify the voices of those of us with special needs so the world can better understand the abilities that we do have. 

According to the National Core Indicators from 2012-13, intellectual and developmental disabilities include but are not limited to Down syndrome, Autism, Fragile X, Williams syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, and other undiagnosed intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The #ImInToHire campaign reports that 73 percent of business who hire employees with special needs have a positive experience.

Anyone can pledge their support of the #ImInToHire campaign at www.imintohire.org. In doing so, you will not only be spreading awareness but you’ll also be recognizing the contributions that all of us can bring to an inclusive workplace.

At another of my recent employers, my supervisors and coworkers had a positive experience. Some of those who I worked with had experience working with those of us with special needs.  At the same time, some may not have had the best understanding of the gifts that we bring to the workplace.

A few months ago, a coworker approached me and shared how they felt sorry that my friends and I had special needs. In an effort not to judge this coworker, the person might not yet have a good understanding of how to work with someone who has special needs.  In another incident, this same coworker had spoken up for me when some other coworkers were seen making fun of me because I had special needs. This worker had recognized this unfair treatment of me and approached our supervisor. Perhaps by having me in this workplace, I touched this coworker’s heart and opened their mind.

Companies should hire those of us with special needs not just for charity but because it’s the right decision. We are individuals who each bring our individual gifts and skills to the workplace.

One of my dreams here at Special Chronicles, a pioneering nonprofit new media company, is to help create a more inclusive workplace. One can acquire many valuable skills here at Special Chronicles. One can attain skills in interviewing, communication, journalism and broadcasting.  One can also learn how to motivate and inspire others. Special Chronicles is a media platform where we work together to make our voices heard.

At any and all places of work, we can show the world how every person with special needs brings individual gifts and skills to organizations.

Join me and let’s change the game for a more inclusive workplace.

Daniel Smrokowski was born three-and-a-third months premature and was diagnosed with learning disabilities and a severe language disorder.  He is an Athlete and Global Messenger with Special Olympics Illinois on the Southeast Association for Special Parks and Recreation team.  Daniel is the founder of Special Chronicles nonprofit new media company, a pioneering network that gives respect and voice to people with special needs. Come join us at www.SpecialChronicles.com.

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