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Your First Job Should Not Be Your Last

By Nancy Boutot on October 12, 2017

I want a job, or two, or three…

Can you answer the following question?

On a load chart, values above the bold line mean:

a.    Capacities based on tipping
b.    Capacities based on structural competence
c.    Capacities should be reduced by 20%
d.    On tire capacities

Know the answer? Me neither, because I am not a heavy equipment operator! So what is my point here? Sometimes we test people on things that can be irrelevant. That can be especially true when administering vocational evaluations to people with disabilities, when we test for things that just don’t matter, such as IQ, reading level, speed, or skills that simply do not pertain to the work they are interested in performing.

If you tested me on load charts, or how many widgets I could put together in an hour, I would fail miserably because I do not know what a load chart is, and I don’t want to put widgets together! Or, perhaps, I do like putting widgets together, but the day you tested my speed I was not feeling well, and it was decided I would never be a widget maker.

Many of us forget that a lot of trial and error went into finding the jobs we currently have. As a trainer, I used to ask job coaches and employment specialists how many jobs they have ever had. I asked this question because time and time again I heard of people with disabilities being deemed as “unemployable” simply because the professionals working with them felt they couldn’t keep a job. Hey, I once had a job that lasted one day, and another that lasted three! This is what I mean by trial and error. Isn’t that how we learn what we like and don’t like? Aren’t those experiences, both the good ones and the bad ones, what shape our conditions for future job success? They sure are!  In fact, it is all that experience that leads us to better paying jobs that require certain levels of experience.

When you think about those first jobs, did you have a vocational evaluation to get these positions? Probably not. While writing this blog, I decided to ask the staff at National Disability Institute what some of their first jobs were. We had several newspaper deliverers; a couple folks who worked on the family farm or in the family business; a number of waiters and waitresses; some babysitters, dishwashers, construction workers, and cashiers; along with a camp counselor and a lifeguard. Many of you reading this blog can probably identify with one or two of these yourselves! Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying there is anything bad about any of these jobs. There is value in ALL work. But, it is important to remember a few things about those first jobs. First, no one made us take a vocational assessment before getting the job to make sure we could succeed. Second, many of us did not succeed! And lastly, no one told us we could not work again because some of those initial jobs didn’t work out. It is what’s called dignity of risk, meaning respecting each individual's autonomy and self-determination. We all make mistakes and it can take a while to master things, even the things were are good at! In the meantime, we are building self-esteem, garnering respect from others, developing a sense of accomplishment, becoming a part of a team, and of course, getting paid!

So, how many jobs have you had? Take a moment and try to count them all up. My best guesstimate is somewhere near 25-27. That seems like a lot doesn’t it? Or does it? In the past 26 years, I have held four jobs. It just took me 22 jobs (in almost as many years) to figure out what I really wanted, and boy was it worth it!

About the Author: Nancy Boutot is a Manager of Financial Empowerment at National Disability Institute (NDI). Nancy provides training on Social Security work incentives, benefits planning and work supports and other asset development strategies to empower individuals and communities to maximize financial capabilities. Prior to joining NDI, she spent eight years with the Agency for Persons with Disabilities in Florida and 14 years directing nonprofit community based employment programs in Florida and New Jersey. Nancy earned her bachelor’s degree from Northeastern University, a Master of Science from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and is also a certified Community Work Incentives Coordinator (CWIC) through Virginia Commonwealth University’s National Training Center.

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Showing the World That ‘Inclusion Drives Innovation’

By Campaign for Disability Employment Team on October 03, 2017

October is a special month to those of us at the Campaign for Disability Employment (CDE). It’s the time of year when we mark National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM)—the national campaign that celebrates individuals with disabilities and their achievements and contributions to America's workforce.

As you may know, NDEAM is spearheaded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), the same agency that funds and manages the CDE. We are often asked where NDEAM intersects with our multi-faceted campaign. The answer? Almost everywhere.

As our name implies, the CDE is a national effort that aims to shape attitudes and improve employment opportunities and outcomes for people with disabilities. We’re the force behind three powerful public service announcements (PSAs) that have aired nearly 300,000 times on television stations nationwide. Each highlights the skills and talents of people with disabilities with a range of career aspirations and experiences and, if you watch TV, there’s a good chance that you’ve seen or heard one of them.

Our flagship production, “I Can” features seven people with disabilities stating what they can do at work when given the opportunity. “Because” targets those who influence the career aspirations of youth with disabilities, and “Who I Am,” our campaign’s most recent PSA, showcases nine people who are not defined by their disabilities, reinforcing that, for many people, work is fundamental to identity.

Of course, there’s much more to the CDE than our PSAs. Our website,—available in both English and Spanish—features a range of tools and tangible ideas for supporting the campaign’s goals, such as CDE support badges that you can display on your own websites, posters, and ready-to-publish news briefs and ads you can run in your own publications. We also engage our followers through regular Twitter chats and a robust social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.

While the spirit of NDEAM underpins everything we do year round, we’re using October to help amplify this year’s NDEAM theme—Inclusion Drives Innovation. Indeed, America’s businesses are strengthened by the unique perspectives that various employees bring to the workplace every day, and the CDE is working to help employers and others recognize that people with disabilities are a crucial part of the inclusion equation.

This month, on our social media platforms, we’re showcasing a wide range of people and narratives that illustrate the many ways that inclusion has fueled innovation and advancement in various fields. We’re also promoting NDEAM events being hosted across the nation, and reminding our followers about the many ways they can observe NDEAM.

So how can you get involved? Visit ODEP’s NDEAM website——for links to tips and ideas. There, you’ll find information on ordering or downloading the free 2017 NDEAM poster, which offers a perfect way to liven up walls and bulletin boards, and share NDEAM’s vital message with the masses.

In addition, we hope you’ll sign up to receive CDE e-mail updates by writing us at (with SUBSCRIBE in the subject line). By doing so, you’ll be among the first to learn about our new products and initiatives, along with ways to spread the vital message that at work, it’s what people CAN do that matters.

About the CDE

Funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, the Campaign for Disability Employment (CDE) promotes positive employment outcomes for people with disabilities by encouraging employers, and others, to recognize the value and talent people with disabilities bring to America’s workplaces. Launched in 2009, the campaign is a collaborative effort among ODEP and the following disability and business organizations: the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD); the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN); the Job Accommodation Network (JAN); the National Business and Disability Council (NBDC); the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC); the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM); Special Olympics (SO); and the U.S. Business Leadership Network (USBLN). Numerous other supporters are actively promoting the CDE message. To learn more, visit   

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The Transformative Power of Work and Inclusion: Reflections on the Americans with Disabilities Act

By Rebecca Salon on July 26, 2017

One of the benefits of being in the disability field for such a long time is the perspective that it brings. I started in the field before the implementation of most of the public laws, legislation and legal actions that ensure the rights of children and adults with disabilities (e.g., the right to a free appropriate public education (P.L. 94-142); affirmative action and nondiscrimination in employment by federal agencies, federal contractor and subcontracts (P.L. 93-122); etc.). I have also seen the rise of the independent living and self-advocacy movements, through which youth and adults found their voice, insisted on “nothing about us without us” and created the impetus for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

For the past 10 years, my work has been heavily focused on promoting employment and economic advancement for people with disabilities, both in my role as Project Director for LEAD Center and my work with the District of Columbia’s Department on Disability Services. I’ve seen firsthand the transformation of youth in Project SEARCH programs, who went from being less-than-mature high school students to being young, motivated, well-dressed, respectful professionals shaped by their environments and the high expectations of the people around them – all within the first few days of their new work experiences. I have witnessed the same transformation numerous times, when people are given the opportunity to belong in and contribute to their workplaces.

Seeing people in settings that do not expect much of them is a poor predictor of what people can accomplish and contribute when given the chance. We all need to keep creating opportunities so that youth and adults with disabilities can become our coworkers, adding their creativity and talent to improve workplace outcomes and productivity.

How? The simplest and most effective thing we can do is to bring people into our own networks and connect people with disabilities to people you know. Most people get jobs through their connections. Helping youth and adults with disabilities broaden their connections can yield big results. So can setting the bar high for what people can accomplish.

During my early days in the field, people with disabilities were often separated from people without disabilities. Today, people with disabilities are present and fully participating everywhere – in preschools, schools, the workforce, community organizations, faith communities, decision-making boards, in Congress, etc., and in leadership and member roles. Thanks to the ADA and subsequent court decisions like Olmstead, opportunities should abound. However, attitudinal barriers and low expectations limit opportunities for many, especially people with significant disabilities. The number of people with disabilities who want to work is more than double the number of people actually in the workforce.

As President George H.W. Bush said on July 26, 1990, when he signed the Americans with Disabilities Act, “Together we must remove the physical barriers we have created and the social barriers that we have accepted, for ours will never be a prosperous nation until all people within it prosper.” In the past 27 years, we have not seen that prosperity. As noted on the Disable Poverty website, adults with disabilities are twice as likely to live in poverty when compared to adults without disabilities.

We each have a role to play in reducing the number of people who are unemployed and living in poverty. We can start by setting high expectations and by opening doors for people with disabilities into our networks and our workplaces.

Photo of Rebecca Salon, Project Director, LEAD


About the Author:

Rebecca Salon is the Project Director for the National Center on Leadership for Employment and Advancement of People with Disabilities (LEAD) Center. Rebecca is a recognized national leader in policy and program development with an emphasis on cutting edge demonstrations that promote employment and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with significant disabilities. She has over 20 years of experience with management of federally funded projects and has over thirty-five years experience working with people across the spectrum of disability. Rebecca also works at the District of Columbia Department on Disability Services (DDS), where she is the lead for DC's Employment First program initiatives, focused on creating opportunities for employment, community inclusion, and economic self-sufficiency for youth and adults in the District of Columbia. Prior to her work in DC Government, Rebecca was executive director of the Lieutenant Joseph P. Kennedy Institute. She earned her doctorate degree in Special Education with studies and research geared toward Disability Policy Studies. Her master’s and doctorate are from Syracuse University.

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