Message From the President and CEO
By Phil Pangrazio
Photos by Loren Worthington
In 2002, President George W. Bush proclaimed October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month. The President called on all government leaders, labor leaders and employers to collaborate to ensure the full inclusion of people with disabilities in the 21st century workforce. Mr. Bush said, “All of our citizens should have the opportunity to live and work with dignity and freedom.”
Disability Awareness Month has become a national campaign to raise awareness about disability employment issues. Like most Americans, people with disabilities want an opportunity to get a job, earn a living and support themselves. In addition to financial independence, work can give our lives meaning and purpose. Work often defines who we are and is a critical source of our social relationships.
While we all agree on this, millions of our youth with disabilities are still waiting for the doors to the workforce to open to them. Too many barriers still exist.
That’s why we must reform Social Security’s current definition of disability. Under current SSI (Supplemental Security Income) rules, an individual with a disability 18 and over must prove they cannot work to qualify for disability benefits, including their health care and independent living supports such as personal assistance services. We need to change this policy and way of thinking that essentially says, “having a disability means I cannot work.” This policy leads many youth and families to think, and rightfully so, that work will result in the loss of these vital support services and the reliability of their monthly SSI check. We can and should do better for our youth!
Ability360 is committed to improving employment outcomes for people with disabilities. Since 2002, Ability360 Employment Services has been providing assistance and support to people with disabilities who seek employment through the Ticket to Work program. All of our employment services are geared toward community-based, integrated employment. Also, Ability360’s Social Security Work Incentives Consulting and Benefits2Work Arizona program serves people receiving Social Security disability benefits who are working or have a desire to work. For more information on either of these programs, go to www.ability360.org.
Our nation’s greatest asset is our people and we need to take advantage of everyone’s abilities. Making employment for people with disabilities a national priority will not only allow more U.S. citizens to reach their potential, but also help our country compete and win on the global stage!