Every morning I eat a healthy breakfast, prepare for work, get dressed and start my day. When I get to my office at the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS), I check in with my boss Ashley Helsing who is the Director of Government Relations and review the day’s goals.
Ashley usually sends me projects like working on documents or creating a speech or PowerPoint for an upcoming presentation. I also have the opportunity to manage my blog and podcast, Kayla’s Korner, where I write or interview individuals on numerous topics such as employment, education, self-advocacy and many other issues. I will email CEOs of companies, self-advocates, NDSS board members and other leaders in the community to see if they are interested in interviewing with me. Before each interview, I sit down and research on who I am interviewing and come up with questions about their outlook on life, what they stand for and how they are impacting the differently-abled community.
As the first registered lobbyist with Down syndrome, I speak with members of Congress and the Senate about different laws like the Kevin and Avonte’s law. This piece of legislation was passed by congress to help families locate missing loved ones with disabilities. Kevin and Avonte were two differently abled boys who perished after wandering from safety. In this instance, their caregivers and law enforcement need support and training to prevent and respond to missing children.
We are now tirelessly working on ending #LawSyndrome, a series of antiquated laws that keep individuals who are differently-abled from pursuing a career or living independently. The 80-year-old provision within the Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA) known as Section 14(c) allows employers to obtain a special wage certificate from the Department of Labor to pay workers with disabilities less than the federal or state minimum wage. Some individuals working under these wage certificates earn pennies per hour. That’s right. People like me are still getting paid as little as 30 cents an hour.
Our goal is to end subminimum wage and phase out Section 14(c). We want the Transitioning to Integrated and Meaningful Employment (TIME) Act to pass so Section 14(c) can be phased out in six years. We want the differently-abled community to have access to meaningful and competitive jobs that provide fair wages.
The differently abled community strives to be a part of the competitive workforce. Why should we be paid less than someone else doing the same job?
Another part of my job is traveling and speaking. I get to go and speak to different groups, affiliates or a keynote speaker at a conference. Majority of the time I am asked to talk about my abilities, my job as the first registered lobbyist with Down syndrome and what my job entails, as well as, the steps I took to become a lobbyist and my education.
On my days off work, I attend Onondaga Community College, where I took classes and electives that helped me gain peer-to-peer experience in a higher education setting. Then I decided to get serious about my college work, so I talked to an advisor about getting my associates degree. An associate’s Degree requires 60 credits and currently I have 33, so I am a little over halfway done. I am taking one course at a time, so it’s going to take me a while to get my degree, but I am persistent, and I am determined to earn my degree.
In my free time, I have many interests, including playing sports in the Special Olympics. I have been involved with the Special Olympics for more than 18 years now and have been fortunate enough to travel to Athens, Greece as a summer games world athlete. The Special Olympics is where I have found my lifelong friendships.
I also enjoy reading books by various authors. I particularly like David Baldacci, Mary Higgins Clark and James Patterson. I love working out at the gym and taking kickboxing classes, Yoga and Zumba classes.
I love being with my family and in our free time we enjoy miniature golfing, going to the movies and trying different restaurants or hanging out at home with our dog, Bella.
I love my life!