Employment is a defining aspect of adult life. It connects us to full participation and inclusion in our communities; it fosters a sense of self-worth, opens opportunities for social growth, and leads to greater independence. Employing individuals with intellectual disabilities is a smart business decision and a social responsibility as I told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee in 2011, during the Committee Hearing on Improving Employment Opportunities for People with Intellectual Disabilities.
I have surprised my family and many others over the past thirty nine years of my life. When I was born, I don’t think that my parents imagined me as an advocate for people with intellectual disabilities. I just completed a one- year fellowship as a Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Public Policy Fellow, first on Capitol Hill with the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security and then with the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS). It is an honor and a privilege to have been selected as the first person with an intellectual disability to serve in this position.
My employment story started early in my life, and it took many years to prepare. I believe that inclusion starts at home. In my family, I was taught that work is part of life. Early on, I helped with family chores, and I was not excused because of my disability. Later on, I learned more about work in high school with an internship at the National Wild Life Federation and at the Davis Career Center. In 1996, I got my first internship at Booz Allen Hamilton through the “Bridges Program” sponsored by the Marriott Foundation, which encourages employers to hire interns with an intellectual disability so they can explore job opportunities.
Once my internship ended, I was hired as an employee and have worked in the distribution center for almost 20 years. My first supervisor was great; she took it upon herself to teach me everything there was to know about being a clerk. She believed in me and she wanted me to succeed as a staff employee. At work, I am treated like other employees. The company cares about my personal and professional development. I am "one of them and not one among them.”. I am empowered to contribute.
Promoting careers for people like me is very important and worth our time and attention. We need to move away from low expectations and start hiring people with Down syndrome and other intellectual disabilities. Why, in 2016, aren’t there more integrated competitive employment opportunities for people like me?
I am proud to have a job and I am thankful that both Booz Allen Hamilton and currently CBRE, my new employer, pay me competitive wages, give me full benefits, and include me on the team. Having Down syndrome does not define me as a person. People with disabilities want to be accepted and given an opportunity to succeed like anyone else. People with disabilities are citizens that matter. We are ready and able to work. I pay taxes, I vote, and I matter. Employment is about dignity and inclusion.