For people living with disabilities, the road to landing a successful career takes a great amount of determination. But with the right tools and resources, everyone has the ability to overcome adversity and achieve their professional goals.
On April 21st, United Spinal hosted its Disability Leadership and Policy Summit at Temple University’s Student Center in Philadelphia, PA to address employment issues facing people with disabilities, including students, veterans, and wheelchair users.
The summit, which returned to Philadelphia for its second year and was co-hosted by Temple University, provided a clear message to job candidates determined to put their skills and talents to the test––never give up!
This message reverberated through the inspiring words of the summit’s diverse panel of speakers, including Lynnae M. Ruttledge, commissioner for the Rehabilitation Services Administration, U.S. Department of Education. Ruttledge, who was born with a disability, received assistance from the vocational rehabilitation program and graduated from Northern Michigan University with a B.A. in Education.
“I want you to leave today with one mantra: be bold. People are not just going to come up to you and say ‘hi, would you like a job?’ You have to approach people. You have to really think about the networks and opportunities to connect with folks. And you have to be continually letting people know what you’re looking for,” said Ruttledge.
Joyce A. Bender, CEO and founder of Bender Consulting Services, Inc., a firm that recruits and hires people with disabilities in the public and private sectors, energized the audience with a powerful speech offering insight on discovering new paths to employment.
“People with disabilities don’t want pity; they want paychecks. They don’t want you to look at them as a powder puff; they’re a powerhouse. They don’t want you to look at their disabilities; they want you to look at their abilities,” said Bender.
“People with disabilities need the ability to dream and believe…Many are waiting for someone to save the day. It’s not going to happen…Don’t sit back and wait. Get out there and network. Complete a resume, learn how to interview, write down your goal, and then take action. Go to job fairs and events hosted by [disability organizations]. You might meet high-level hiring managers. Do volunteer work. You may be working alongside a CEO. You also need to get on social media to know where the opportunities are. The point is you have to get out there…Remember that there’s hope, but not if you don’t change and make it happen,” she explained.
Anita Diggs, counselor at the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation in Philadelphia, said she attended to learn about other services and resources available to share with the population she serves to move towards independence and satisfying employment.
“The greatest benefit of being involved in this summit was the interest and motivation of all attendees,” Diggs added.
“I decided to attend the summit because I was looking for internships or a job for the summer. It was great to have an opportunity to see what types of jobs were out there and having the ability to network,” said Alexis Dowell, a student at Temple.
The summit also featured a variety of exhibitors, including local businesses and agencies providing disability employment resources; one-on-one career counseling; and a resource fair to assist veterans in finding jobs and obtaining VA benefits.
Other speakers included Ted Daywalt, President and CEO of VetJobs; Ronald W. Benson, Deputy Regional Administrator, Veterans’ Employment and Training Service Philadelphia Region; Sara Mahoney, Business Development Specialist, Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP); Renee Kirby, Assistant Director, Disability Resources and Services, Temple University.
Following the event, United Spinal presented the 2011 Visionary Award to leaders within the disability community that have demonstrated extraordinary service and outstanding commitment to people with disabilities. Recipients were Comcast Cable Communications; Newcombe Scholarships for Students with Disabilities; and Joseph Brown, a tireless advocate for the disability community.
United Spinal’s next summit will take place at Hofstra University on June 1st and will focus on transportation, health care, and employment. For more information, please visit http://www.unitedspinal.org/events/summit/ or call 800-404-2898. We hope to see you there!