Margo & Jelyse Dawson
Women Breaking Barriers for People with Disabilities
Updated: Oct 30, 2019
Have you wondered how many entertainers may have a disability and who advocates for them? Atlanta-based singer, songwriter, bandleader, performance coach, and activist Myrna Clayton led the Importance of the Employment and Promoting Images of People with Disabilities in Entertainment at the Employment Disability Workshop held at Friendship Baptist Church. Who better understands the industry than Ms. Clayton also known as “America’s Songbird.”
Clayton’s workshop focused on the importance of employment and promoting images of people with disabilities in the entertainment world. Ms. Clayton uses her platform to help other artists through her non-profit organization, Abel 2 whose mission is to enhance the quality of life of people with disabilities and the underserved by creating music and arts opportunities for employment and enjoyment. The organization has reached over 10,000 children and adults since 2009.
Q: What motivates you to work with or for people with disabilities?
A: After asking 25+ musician friends (who play in clubs, churches, theaters, etc.) if they knew of a singer with a disability because I was looking for a young powerful singer I had heard at a church who (with Cerebral Palsy) struggled to climb three steps up to a pulpit. I was shocked that only one musician knew someone. That made no sense to me numerically. It was then that I was compelled to showcase talented performing artists across the disability spectrum. We then discovered the challenges of accessibility on stage an in all audiences. We believe everybody deserves a stage and everybody deserves a good time!
Q: Were there challenges and barriers?
A: They were skeptical about my motives wondering what was in it for me. My reply, “I see the need and nobody else is doing this.” The opportunity is huge and the frustrations many. If I was not compelled by the Spirit, I would have quit a long time ago. It’s often pretty thankless and discouraging because of the ignorance of the general population and the low confidence in the disability community. A barrier was me not having a disability or having a family member with a disability. That was a hindrance for some.
Q: Do you or someone in your family have a disability?
A: My mom now has vascular dementia. She did not when I started Abel 2.
Q: What’s your advice to People with Disabilities?
A: Let your light shine. God gave each of us unique talents and abilities. You have a gift it’s just presented differently. Go over/under/around/through, but never allow your light to be covered up!
I like to ask women what they do to enrich their spirit. It is obvious that Myrna’s happy place is music performance and helping others. Like a diamond, she lights up the internet with performance videos and images. In 2018, her band, The Myrna Clayton Experience, represented the U.S. as ambassadors for Cultural Diplomacy around the globe. Learn more about Myrna's at http://www.myrnaclayton.com/.
Can we assume that employers have the same expectations for workers with disabilities compared to those without? JoAnn McLean, Director of Mission Development at Goodwill of North Georgia broke it down in her presentation on The Importance of the Employment of People with Disabilities from the Employer’s Point of View. According to the American Disability Act (ADA), McLean shared that the laws, resources, and services have improved for people with barriers.
Q: What motivates you to work for people with disabilities?
A: In 1987, my father was in a car accident and became a quadriplegic. As a result of his injuries, my entire life changed. I saw how difficult it was for people with disabilities to access simple supports to make their life better. As I learned to advocate for my father, I began to advocate for all people with barriers.
Q: What laws must employers adhere to regarding people with disabilities?
A: It’s unlawful to discriminate against people with a disability in employment practices. This includes recruitment, hiring, firing, training, lay-off, benefits and other related employment activities.
Q: What's the definition of a qualified individual with disabilities?
A: A person who meets legitimate skill experience, education, or other requirements of an employment position that he or she holds or seeks, and who can perform the "essential functions" of the position with or without reasonable accommodations. ADA
Q: What is a reasonable accommodation?
Any change or adjustment to a work environment that permits an employee with a disability to participate in the job application process, to perform the essential functions of a job, or to enjoy benefits and privileges of employment equal to those enjoyed by employees without disabilities. Examples include job restructuring, modified work schedules, accessible facilities, and even providing readers or/and interpreters.
When I asked JoAnne how she practices wellness she said, "At this point in my life I have learned that I can’t cut corners, I have to make time for the things I need in life. I can’t rush. I need the appropriate time for rest, food, work and plan for all of these things in my life."
How is technology helping people with visual and physical challenges? Two vendors participating at the Disability Employment Awareness Workshop at Friendship Baptist Church were Horizon who showcased equipment for the hearing impaired and GLASS who offers assisted technology for hearing and physically impaired. I did a follow-up interview with Asha Hagood, an outreach librarian for Georgia Libraries for Accessible Statewide Services, (GLASS) about her work, passion, and more.
Q: Describe the services you offer as an outreach librarian with GLASS and their impact nationally.
A: I travel across Georgia raising awareness about our service, which is essentially accessible library materials and programs for the blind and print disabled. We are a part of a nationwide network of libraries.
Q: How do clients access the audio library?
A: GLASS is a library service for individuals who are print-impaired, which means they can’t read standard print due to visual impairment or can’t turn the pages of a book due to a physical impairment. If someone is interested in becoming a GLASS member, they would go to the website (georgialibraries.org/glass) to fill out an application. The individual would need to have a qualifying condition and have their application signed by someone who can verify that they have a need.
Q: What accommodations are provided for your clients with a visual disability?
A: Once a person is a GLASS member they will have access to our collection of human-voice narrated audiobooks on our cartridges. They will also receive a Talking Book Player to play their cartridges. Members also have the option of using BARD (Braille and Audio Reading Download) Mobile on their personal devices (Android or iOS).
Q: What’s are the benefits and challenges of your role?
A: Working in this role I get to meet and partner with amazing people that are fighting for the rights of one of the more marginalized groups in society—those with disabilities. The challenging thing about this role is anxiety we feel about making sure we sufficiently meet the needs of our patrons who need various accessibility accommodations.
Q: How long have you served in this role?
A: I’ve been an Outreach Librarian with GLASS for almost 3 years. Prior to this, I was a Media Specialist in a Cobb County school and I worked in the public library for 8 years.
Q: Are their jobs in this field and what advice can you share about this career path?
A: The advice I would give someone who was interested in this particular library work—essentially a special library—would be to immerse yourself in the accessibility world, familiarize yourself with the ADA (American with Disabilities Act), attend pertinent conferences or Expos and talk to the vendors there, familiarize yourself with various assistive technologies.
Q: As a working woman, how do you find balance to ensure physical and mental health?
A: I make the time to do things that I love like Zumba, nature walks or spending time with my family. Fortunately, I also love my work so it never feels like a job!
We hope these stories inspire you to make an impact in your community. To learn more, check out these resources:
A Guide to Disability Right laws