October holds a special place in many people’s hearts. It is a time to enjoy football games, apple picking, pumpkin carving, and costume parties. October also happens to be both Down Syndrome Awareness Month and National Disability Employment Awareness Month. These two issues hold an extra special place in my heart.
When my first child, Jonathan, was born nearly 40 years ago with Down syndrome and four heart defects, I did not see a world that I wanted for my son. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I was determined to build one for him and for others with developmental disabilities, of acceptance and inclusion. I have spent my entire career working with a variety of agencies focused on serving people with disabilities and the changes I have seen in the last four decades are encouraging.
As a parent of a child with Down syndrome, I didn’t have time to wait for the kinds of services that needed to be developed or for policies to be implemented. Instead, I knew I had to advocate for Jonathan to give him a full and happy life. I worked hard to have Jonathan be the first child with an intellectual disability to be accepted into a typical day care, the first to go to a regular summer camp and then a regular sleep away camp, to graduate from Swampscott High School after being on the golf team, go to college, and own a home.
These steps were all important for Jonathan to take in order to become employed and find greater purpose in his life. There are thousands of other children and adults with Down syndrome that as a society we all need to support so they too can find their own definition of success.
At the Northeast Arc we support children and adults with Down syndrome every day and have made it a priority to create opportunities for people with disabilities to find and maintain jobs. Our Breaking Grounds Café in Peabody, where we train people to get jobs in the food service industry, is one shining example that shows people can be successful if given the chance to learn new skills and the opportunity to use these skills in the workforce.
If you are an employer looking to fill a job, I hope that you will consider hiring someone with a disability that has the skills and desire to get the job done. You will be glad you did.
Jo Ann Simons is President & CEO of Northeast Arc.