October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. I am employed as a self-advocate coordinator at The Arc of Quinebaug Valley and I love working with my peers in The Arc movement to raise awareness about, and increase opportunity for, individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is nearly double the rate for Americans without a disability. This trend has to stop. The goal of the hiring process should be to attract and identify the individual who is best suited for the job. This includes individuals with disabilities.  When we work toward and achieve this goal as a community, both the employer and employee benefit from an inclusive work environment that facilitates the retention of all qualified workers. Connecticut even has a has a new Vocational Rehabilitation Job Creation Tax Credit Program for employers that can help move us toward this goal.

Studies show that people with an intellectual or developmental disability take less time-off from work than people who do not have a disability. My observations show that if you have high expectations for individuals with an intellectual or developmental disability they will meet, and even exceed, them.

I know first-hand that people with any disability want to work, just like anyone else does. We need a chance to succeed and increase our independence and community involvement, just like anyone else does. We want to feel valued, respected and appreciated, just like anyone else does. We need to be given hard tasks that come with the opportunity to fail and also the opportunity to pick ourselves up and learn from that experience, just like anyone else does. We need to be given real challenges so that we can gain real success and pride, just like anyone else does.  We need the right to advance as far as we can in any task, without artificial limits, interventions or prejudgments from others, just like anyone else does.

I hope every reader will take the time to learn a little bit more about increasing employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities of all kinds. Visit the US Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy for more information. Visit The Arc Connecticut to learn about program, services and opportunities in you community. 

Follow Jamie on Twitter @jman197633
Follow The Arc Connecticut on Twitter @TheArcCT

Jamie Lazaroff is the Self Advocate Coordinator for The Arc of Quinebaug Valley, a Board of Directors Member at The Arc Connecticut, and a Transition Team Member for Commissioner Macy, CT Department of Developmental Services.