WNY Commits and Speaks Out for National Disability Employment Awareness Month

More than 50 million Americans identify as people with disabilities and work to navigate a difficult workforce.

BUFFALO, NY – Disability in America … let’s paint the picture.

There are over 50 million Americans who identify as disabled. To the naked eye, they may not fit the stereotype, but according to the federal definition, they live with one or more significant disabilities that impact major activities of life.

Taking a shower, brushing your hair, cooking a meal … going to work … for millions of Americans, these routine habits can often be more than just a challenge or a burden – they can be painful.

National Disability Employment Awareness Month is an important month to raise awareness and talk about how we, as a community at large, can help level the playing field when it comes to opportunities in the workplace – for everyone, but most importantly for them. People with Disabilities.

Todd Vaarwerk is the Policy Director of Independent living in western New York and knows the barriers when it comes to working with a disability – he has cerebral palsy.

“The larger base of people with disabilities is much larger than people expect,” Vaarwerk said. “It is not just a person in a wheelchair or a deaf person or a blind person. It is a person who has difficulty moving around at home. It is a person who has fine motor problems, c he is a person who has trouble keeping track of one thought at a time. “

This year, the Department of Labor’s Disability Employment Policy Office celebrates 20 years of helping advance opportunities for workers with disabilities across the country. Vaarwerk says that while progress has been made since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) began 31 years ago, there is still a lot of work to be done to create equal opportunity.

“I wish I could give you some good news and say that this picture is improving. But it really isn’t. We make gains and then we make losses. I mean, if we look at what COVID is. did for unemployment, for example, it did worse for us than for the general population, ”Vaarwerk told 2 On Your Side.

Jobs, promotions, remuneration … everything is a challenge when it comes to living as a disabled person.

“Not only do we want to be part of a workforce, but we are an essential part of an already existing workforce,” says Vaarwerk. “You are a boon to your workplace. You are not just there to inspire. You do the same things as all other workers.”

When it comes to navigating the paperwork and process, says Vaarwerk, look to places like WNY Independent Living that can help.

“There are places you can go. We can also help businesses, get the things people with disabilities need and stay employed. We can help you solve these problems,” said Vaarwerk. “We’re going to be the ones who say ‘okay maybe you can do it that way.”

If you or someone you know needs help finding employment as a person with a disability, please call WNY Independent Living at 1 800 348 8399.

Click here for more resources for people with disabilities in Erie County.

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