Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Personal Connection to Disability Employment Month

“I haven’t worked in four years, and I got fired from that job,” Dennis mumbled while staring at his shoes.  “I work hard, but people can’t get past my small stature, shy demeanor, and slow learning style.”

Being new to job developing for people with disabilities, I could not see the barriers that Dennis worried about.  I saw a nicely dressed, polite middle-aged man who desperately desired a chance to earn a living.  “Look at your resume,” I said as I pulled it off the printer.  “This is your ticket in the door.  Then, your charming personality will do the rest.”  At last, his smile broke through and I knew he would succeed.

Dennis was my first “placement” back in the spring of 1995.  He went from couch surfing and food stamps to gainfully employed, owning a townhouse, and meeting his first girlfriend within six months.  He stopped by my office often to proudly show me his uniform, which he only took off to wash.  His life was changing forever, and so was mine.

Dennis helped me learn that employment is so much more than a paycheck.  It is purpose – it is status – it is community.  It is a right and responsibility that we all share, no matter our ability level.  Easter Seals Washington gave me the opportunity to work toward the most meaningful outcomes ever, and I soaked up the experience like a sponge.

I did not realize at the time that I was building a foundation for leading a statewide organization.  As President & CEO, I feel more responsibility than I did in those early years; but, I feel just as challenged, just as important, and just as compelled to help people with disabilities achieve their goals. 

Rising unemployment rates and recent business closures worsen the already tough odds of a person with a disability finding any job, let alone a career.  The answer?  Conceptually, it is easy.  Combine a dash of elbow grease with a pinch of creativity.  Work harder and smarter and don’t stop until the bar graph is hitting the top of the white board.  Realistically, changing the employment picture for people with disabilities is going to take negotiation, advocacy, raising expectations, and pushing comfort zones beyond their limits.  Once an employer realizes the tangible and intangible benefits of hiring a person with a disability, he will feel the optimism that I felt the day that Dennis framed his first pay stub.

On behalf of Easter Seals Washington and people with disabilities, spread the word that October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

Cathy Bisaillon
President & CEO
Easter Seals Washington

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What is Inclusion?

by Lauren Kreutzer

Recently as I was digging through an old file box, I came across a Department of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) Certification I earned in 2005. It said I’d successfully completed a five-hour training course called “Inclusion.”I had to think about this course named inclusion. Anything and anyone could be included, so why was this an important topic for a nursing assistant to learn? It seemed vague, but then I began to remember what “Inclusion” meant in the context of disabilities.

Inclusion is a philosophy based on integrating people with disabilities, regardless of their limitations. Rather than being allowed to do something by people who don’t have disabilities, the idea of inclusion reflects the belief that it is a right of all people to be included. Bill Kiernan, Director of the Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI) at University of Massachusetts, Boston, explains the plight of inclusion:

“For over forty years, our focus has been to figure out ways people with disabilities can participate in everyday activities and all aspects of the community…There is still the perception out there that people with disabilities cannot work, cannot move on to higher education, and in general are limited in their activities.”]

The issue of inclusion revolves around making things accessible to those who have disabilities. Simply putting an option out there doesn’t mean it can be utilized by everyone. Taking steps to make sure people with disabilities can access opportunities fairly is key to making inclusion work. This can mean adding assistive technologies, expanding upon current community resources or any other way of making a goal reachable for people of all abilities.

Society isn’t comprised of just one type of person- that’s the gist of inclusion. Everyone deserves a fair go of it, and it’s our job as communities to make sure that opportunities are available to everyone, regardless of the ways in which they might go about finding the means to their ends. It’s a good thing to keep in mind as we create, build and design educational infrastructures, architecture, transportation systems and the like. The question is: Is this accessible to as many people as it can be? If not, how could it be?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Challenges of Seeking and Securing Employment

By Charissa Manglona

With our state's unemployment rate still hovering at 9%, the challenge remains for many job seekers to get their foot in the door for an interview to land a job.  Employers posting position openings receive a multitude of resumes and applications from people who are unemployed, or employed but desiring a change, challenge, or higher pay.  Some of those applicants may be over-qualified for the position because they were laid-off a year ago from a job that required specialized education and/or training.  It can be a very difficult process for an employer to sort through all of the applicants and narrow it down to a select number of candidates.

In the mix of the hundreds of applicants for a job are people with disabilities.  The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is nearly 12 times the national average.  The challenge of tailoring their resume or application to catch the hiring manager's eye and receive an appointment time for an in-person interview weighs heavily on their minds, as well as anyone who supports that individual.  For some people with disabilities, they have the support of an employment specialist or case manager who assists them in locating positions in their field of interest and applying for those jobs.

Once the individual is selected for the in-person interview, their goal is to prove they are the best candidate for the job.  They are presented the challenge of overcoming the potential employer's fears of having an individual with a disability on staff.  The employer may question if the working environment would be accessible or what types of accommodations they would need to make for the individual.  The focus should shift from the person's disability and rather on their "ability".  Do they meet the minimum qualifications for the position?  Can they do the essential functions of the job?  If the answer to both of those questions is yes, then the employer should consider that individual as one of the top candidates and conduct the reference check process to learn more about their character.  By doing so, this would be a step in the right direction of breaking down the attitudinal barriers for people with disabilities in obtaining employment.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Measurements of Success

By Charissa Manglona

For years, success was measured by the amount of money you made.  The more funds you had available, the more luxuries you could afford.  This type of approach towards reaching great success may have also required certain sacrifices...working long hours during the week and on weekends, limiting the amount of personal time.

In more recent years, the concept of creating a "work-life balance" has become more prevalent.  Recognizing the importance of having an income that creates comfortable living and still allowing for time to be spent with family, friends or participating in activities/hobbies, has weighed on many people's minds.

A year ago, I looked at the components in my life that influenced my sense of success, how successful I felt in those areas at that point, what would make me feel more successful, and decided on the journey that could get me there.  I recently reviewed my goals from the year prior and noted a tremendous amount of growth for me both personally and professionally.  By having my goals written down, I was excited to see the progress I had made and the transformation in my mind of feeling "successful".

This reflection prompted me to think of people with disabilities.  Their goals and components in their lives that influence their sense of success may be very similar to mine.  They may seek professional growth in their jobs and to establish strong working relationships with co-workers, colleagues, supervisors and senior management.  People with disabilities may desire to establish a balance with their involvement in activities, fostering relationships, and cultivating new networking opportunities.

Although the path that each of us takes to reach our goals may be different, three questions come to mind when measuring a sense of success:

Do you feel valued?
  • This could be through work (compensation/responsibilities/knowledge), by family members or community members.
Are you engaged/involved with others and are you gaining from your interactions?  
  • This is focusing on your relationships with others (work, personal, & community).
Are you happy and have a feeling of fulfillment?
  • This is looking at your life overall and each of the components involved in your life.

How do you measure your sense of success?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Caregivers Deserve T.L.C. Too

Blog:  Week of 7/04/11

By Cathy Bisaillon

I admit that I used to down play the importance of respite for caregivers.  I likened it to the occasional babysitter that I used for my children, and I treated it as much more of a luxury than a necessity.

My first trip out to Easter Seals Camp Stand By Me changed my attitude forever.  It was a check-out day, where families and caregivers were picking up their children following a six-day session.  I remember one dad in particular; who I will call Mr. Camp.  “So, Mr. Camp,” I said. “How did you spend six days without having to worry about your son?  Did you and Mrs. Camp go to Hawaii or some exotic location?”  Mr. Camp’s mouth curled in a half-smile and he looked at me as if I had just fallen off the turnip truck.  “You don’t get it, Cathy.  This is the first break we have had in three years.  We took a nap, slept through the night, balanced our checkbook, and took our other son to a movie without having to leave the theater.”

Mr. Camp was right, I didn’t get it.  But I did from that point on.  Respite for a caregiver of a person with multiple needs is a life preserver.  It pulls them out of a continual cycle of tasks and worries and allows them to shore themselves up for what comes next.  All of the Easter Seals Washington programs provide respite in some form.  It is typically a hidden benefit, with the marketed service being child development, residential recreation, or employment.  It should not, however, be seen as a secondary benefit.  I am occasionally asked by our employees if we should provide respite for group home staff, as they are paid caregivers and may be “taking advantage” of our services.  Without blinking, I reply that we should embrace those opportunities, as the break that we give a routine caregiver may drastically improve his or her ability to patiently provide care.  Continual care-giving is exhausting, challenging, and often thankless.  I am not exaggerating when I say that respite services save lives and prevent abuse. 

We are all caregivers in some way at various times in our lives.  Our task is to recognize our limits, admit that we need a break, and to look for respite opportunities that will be mutually beneficial to ourselves and those we care for.  After we recharge our batteries, let’s remember to thank a caregiver – it may be just the shot in the arm he needs to get up tomorrow and start fresh.

Monday, June 20, 2011


The biggest fundraising day in the history of King County is coming June 23rd. Sounds a little dramatic, yes, but the Seattle Foundation is attempting to make it happen. Modeled after events in other areas across the country, the GIVEBIG will muster the Seattle Foundation's considerable resources with the backing of very generous sponsors to concentrate the giving power of King County into one blockbuster day of giving!

From 7AM to 12 midnight this Thursday, donors can make a gift to local non-profits through the Seattle Foundation's website, and have these gifts matched by GIVEBIG sponsors. The advantage for both donors and non-profits is clear: donors have their gifts go twice as far to help people in their communities; non-profits receive extra funds to help fulfil their missions.

This approach has worked well in other areas of the country, and should have a considerable impact in our fair city, considering that Seattle is the most generous in the US. As you can see, the idea of June 23rd being the biggest day of giving in King County history is not at all farfetched.

To participate, all you need to do is see if your favorite charity has a listing with the Seattle Foundation. Of course, we're hoping you decide to make people with disabilities your cause of choice. Click here on Thursday, and make Easter Seals Washington your GIVEBIG beneficiary. You'll help people with disabilities live, learn, work, and play. You'll also be a part of King County history!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Too Many Do-Gooders?

There are 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the United States, and roughly 80,000 in Washington state. Of course, not all of them are 501(c)3 tax exempt, and there are various kinds of nonprofits including churches and trade organizations.

An abundance of charitable organizations can be a good thing. It means that people have thought about where the service gaps lie in our society, and they have had the courage to do something about it. What strikes me about the huge number of nonprofits, however, is that redundancy and inefficiency must exist. There has also been a trend to push nonprofits to function much like forprofit corporations. Again, this has its advantages; but, it also breeds competition and silo thinking.

I am fortunate to be part of several groups and organizations that are engaging in dialog about the bigger issues - how to better meet the needs of the people around us by prioritizing creative solutions and collaborations. We are reminding each other to put the parameters of our own organizations aside and focus on overall systems change.

I am absolutely convinced that this is the right strategy for breaking the cycle of dependence on government funding and for opening our eyes to the actions that make our communities more diverse and ultimately more prosperous. Making time for think-tank discussions is energizing and extremely enlightening.

I challenge myself and all nonprofit stakeholders to occassionally put aside the responsibility of keeping the individual 1.5 million organizations ticking, and think about what a new way of tackling society's problems might look like. The current economic struggles and natural disasters in the world can keep us scrambling to achieve status quo, or they can inspire us to do something a little crazy, like change the world.

Cathy Bisaillon
President & CEO