The National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) President & CEO Sara Hart Weir and I attended the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Diversity and Inclusion Conference and Exhibition. We were invited to give a keynote address titled, “Ready, Willing and Able to Work – How you can tap individuals with Down syndrome in your workforce.”

 

Sara spoke about how the NDSS staff consists of mostly self-advocates and why #DSWORKS is important to us in and out of the office. When Sara was finished, she gave the mic to me and I shared my personal story and experiences about my early education, accomplishments and where I am today as the Manager of Grassroots Advocacy for NDSS and the first registered lobbyist with Down syndrome. I talked about how I came into my position by interning for my local congressman and what employment means to me. I told the audience about “Law Syndrome” and how Down syndrome doesn’t hold us back, it is old, antiquated laws that do. We explained sub-minimum wage and why it makes us feel less than equal and why we want to phase out 14C. It’s always interesting to see how many people don’t know that we can be paid under minimum wage, even though we do the same work as someone else.

 

Sara also talked about the ABLE act and how we can save our money and not worry about exceeding the Medicaid limits that would cause us to lose our benefits. She explained how we can put our paychecks into the ABLE accounts.

 

The conference was sold out with 900 people in the audience, people we hope will bring our message, that we are ready, willing and able to work and want to work to their employers.

 

At the end of our keynote, SHRM Corporate Secretary and Chief of Staff Emily Dickens surprised us with a $5,000 donation for our #DSWORKS program. I was totally wowed. We also did a text-to-vote polling and I heard that a lot of the audience texted #LawSyndrome. After our presentation, we went out to meet and greet the audience members outside of the conference room and a lot of folks were lined up to shake our hands and take pictures.

 

Sara and I were over the moon happy with our results. As we were leaving, more people stopped us to talk and shake hands. It was a great day and a great feeling of accomplishment on how well the conference was.

 

As we wrapped up our speeches, I quoted some lyrics from John Lennon’s “Imagine” with a McKeon twist on it, Imagine the Possibilities. I put it below for you to read.

 

Imagine the Possibilities

 

You may say I am a dreamer

but I am not the only one.

I hope someday you’ll join us

and the world will be as one.

 

Imagine all of us being included,

I wonder if you can.

No need for walks or awareness,

No bullying across the land.

 

You may say I am a dreamer

but I am not the only one.

I hope someday you’ll join us

and the world will be as one.

 

Imagine all of us working,

I wonder if you can.

Not leaving us in poverty

To live like every other man.

 

You may say I am a dreamer

but I am not the only one.

I hope someday you’ll join us

and the world will be as one.

 

Imagine the possibilities,

I know you truly can.

For we are all in this together

As we walk day by day hand in hand.


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