Monday, February 13, 2012

Turning 21: Bittersweet Birthday for Young Adults with Disabilities

I occassionally blog for the Ruderman Family Foundation and this is my latest  blog:

In a recent Boston Globe column, (January 29), Joan Vennochi brought us the story of James Nadworny, a young man with Down syndrome, who recently celebrated his 21st birthday. While it was undoubtedly a wonderful occasion, it would bring him and his devoted family closer to the day when he turns 22, a milestone, to paraphrase Don McLean, when “the music died.”

In Massachusetts and in most states, people with disabilities and their families have been “happy for a while.” People like James and my son, Jon, through the age of 22, are guaranteed an education but, unlike the majority of special education students, who will go on to college or careers, our children need additional supports to achieve the dreams and hopes we have for them.

“Bad news is on the doorsteps” because our children are entitled to nothing after their education ends. Continuation of support depends entirely on the state budget process. The support that individuals with significant disabilities need to be successful is not adequately funded and the funding gets tougher every year.

I know. I have been advocating on behalf of persons with disabilities for over 30 years. I know our State House too well and I get tired of begging for a society to see the worth of our children and adequately fund the services they need and to pay the dedicated staff who work with them a living wage.

My son was lucky. He is 32 and when he turned 22, the economy was stronger and the political will to provide him the supports he needed was stronger. As a result, he received the support he needed to work and live independently.

James is turning 22 in the worst possible economic time and the hopes of his family, for him to live a full, productive and meaningful life, should be the hope all of us has for James.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

VERC Enterprises Shows Us the way

Over 20% of VERC Enterprises workforce are people with intellectual disabilities and according to CEO Leo Vercollone (pictured here with me and one of his employees at a recent recognition event at Cardinal Cushing Centers) and it has kept his 24 convenience stores/gas station and car washes ahead of the competition. In an industry with 100% turnover, his company has a 40% rate. The difference are... people with intellectual disabilities. He spoke of a culture created at his company through hiring individuals with intellectual disabilities. In the face of stiff competition, he wanted to create a store culture that is happy, fun, inclusive and caring. The key to creating that culture is the over 20% of his workforce who have intellectual disabilities. His employees say work is more fun. His customers find the practice socially responsible and he he describes these employees as committed and hardworking. Three cheers for VERC!!!
How do we get the word out that people with intellectual disabilities are an asset in the workplace??