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  • Writer's pictureMargo & Jelyse Dawson

Volunteering to Give and Receiving Much More: Employment Disability Awareness & Perceptions: Part I

Updated: Oct 30, 2019

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” – Helen Keller

Fall is a great time to give of our time and receive fulfillment. Volunteering at the October Employment Disability Workshop sponsored by the Disability Ministry at Friendship Baptist Church in Atlanta increased my connection with the community and sensitivity to people with disabilities.

When you volunteer, it’s good to have a connection to the cause. For me it was a few things. First, I visited Friendship Baptist in September when pastor Rev. Dr. Richard W. Wills, Sr., invited my husband, Rev. Dr. J Lin Dawson to speak. Lin is the athletic director at Clark Atlanta University which is a few blocks from the church. Second, my good friend, Judy McClendon Redmond, founder of Rare Pearls Mentoring & Leadership Program Inc., asked me and a group of friends to volunteer at the same church for an upcoming disability workshop. Judy's dedication to helping others both home and abroad makes it easy for people to lend a helping hand.

Showing Up to Serve with a Trainable Attitude & Humble Heart

When showing up to volunteer there’s not a lot of time to ask questions. You take instruction with a trainable attitude, and a humble heart. We were greeted by the coordinator, Vernitia Shannon, who shared what motivated her to launch the Disability Ministry.

I was motivated to advocate for people with disabilities when I realized that people with disabilities are often viewed with a presumption of incompetence regardless of the person’s high professional achievements. I was invited to an in-person interview after meeting the basic and preferred qualifications for a job. I am a wheelchair user. The entrance to the building where the interview was being held had stairs and no elevator to the upper floors. I requested the employer to send someone downstairs to give me an in-person interview. The employer sent a person that was not on the interview panel to roll me up to his office to conduct a short interview. He said that the interview panel completed its interviews early. Therefore, I would not be Interviewed. The barrier to the entrance caused an inconvenience to the employer and the applicant. The problem could have been avoided if the employer’s building had been ADA compliant. After this experience, I was driven to the opportunity to serve as the coordinator of The Disability Awareness Ministry in my church. God ALWAYS makes a way. God blesses us in ways that we cannot imagine.

Know the Law & Dispel the Myths Around People with Disabilities

Did you know that nearly 1 in 5 people in the US have a family member with a disability? (source)

The general session kicked off with keynote speaker and disability activist, Mark Crenshaw, Director of Interdisciplinary Training Center for Leadership in Disability at Georgia State University School of Public Health. Crenshaw dispelled the myth that employers can’t expect the same results from people with disabilities as those without. He said, "it’s a win-win for an employer to hire a person with a disability who comes to the workplace with skills, determination, and innovative ideas to fuel development of new opportunities, products, and services". He shared:

The ADA (The American Disability Act) defines a person with a disability as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. This includes people who have a record of such an impairment, even if they do not currently have a disability. It also includes individuals who do not have a disability but are regarded as having a disability. The ADA also makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person based on that person’s association with a person with a disability. source It was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush in 1990. Learn more here.

The information shared raised my awareness so much that I decided to share the experience with our Women, Work, and Wellness audience. I conducted follow-up interviews with some of the women who presented and shared resources at the workshop. Read their stories in the next blog.

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