The government is trying to drive this point home this month. October is the National Disability Employment Awareness Month. It has two purposes: To remind those of us with disabilities we can acquire the skills to be employed and we are valuable employees. The theme for this year was “Because We are EQUAL to the Task.”
Those words are more than just a slogan. We of differing abilities are gaining equal rights in many areas, far more than imagined by this writer who was born with cerebral palsy right after World War II. There are laws to battle discrimination in nearly every area of life.
We are in public doing the same things as others so it’s not unusual to see our accomplishments. Because of this, attitudes toward the disabled have changed since so many thousands spent their lives in institutions.
The jobless rate among the disabled is around three times the rate of the able-bodied and as high as 70 percent for those who are blind. That’s a waste. We belong in the workplace and most I know would rather work than receive an entitlement.
There’s dignity in work. It gives one a sense of purpose and accomplishment and allows us to be economically independent. My money is just as good in a store as anyone else’s and I’ve been blessed to be able to earn it. Someday sooner than later employers will realize those of us with disabilities can improve the corporate bottom line.
And, some people I know who have a disability inspire others because they’ve almost died and returned. When you see the being in white light, you know there is a God and you have innate value. You also learn fast that beauty is in one’s character not the body.
My brush with death came in August of 1956 when I fell into a coma after being overdosed with ether before double knee surgery. When I woke up four days later, the cleaning lady ran out of the room as though she saw a ghost.
I always asked God to take away my braces by age 10. Those surgeries allowed me to throw them out. But the extra gift I received was to learn to see what I could do instead of what I could not do.
As years went by, I was blessed with everything one could want in life and I realized God had been guiding my life since birth toward documenting the progress of those with disabilities in America. I am sure God is touching the lives of others with disabilities so they know for sure they are equal to holding down a job and living life each day with joy.
Jerry Wolffe is the writer-in-residence/advocate at large at the Macomb-Oakland Regional Center. He can be reached at 586 263-8950.