On Thursday, March 15th, the Social Innovation Forum, Liberty Mutual Insurance and Partners for Youth with Disabilities welcomed featured speaker Commissioner Toni Wolf of the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission for a poignant conversation regarding employment for youth with disabilities. Over sixty guests participated, including many young adults with disabilities and leaders in the disability, inclusion and diversity fields.
The talk focused on how large gaps in inclusion are a reality for the disability community. As a society, we must act now to ensure that youth with disabilities have the supports and opportunities in place to achieve their hopes and dreams. One step to achieve this is by providing career preparation and internship opportunities for young people with diverse abilities so they have the tools to succeed in inclusive work environments. PYD and MRC have partnered to provide pre-employment training, but our mission has to reach an even larger audience, with communities, businesses and organizations all engaged for this change as well.
As she stepped up on the podium, Commissioner Wolf immediately put guests at ease. A laugh filled the room as she opened her talk with a Seinfeld video clip and everyone felt excited to be there. Then she transitioned to the real topic of the morning, declaring that, “With all that we have done, there is still stigma (regarding disability).”
“People with disabilities have a 20.7% engagement in the workforce. In 2010 it was at a low of 13%, so there is improvement. We are doing something right, but it still is not great.” In addition, the unemployment rate of people with disabilities is twice that of those without disabilities–and that’s just the reported number. We’re at a precipice of a bubble that we must capitalize on as businesses are looking to hire. The time is now to bridge the gap in the employment of youth with disabilities by ensuring they gain the necessary skills for success. And by working with employers so they develop strong inclusive practices.
Dr. Wolf talked about the importance of programs targeting transition age youth (14 to 24 years old) with disabilities looking to forge their path in this world. The vision is for these youth to form lasting and strong mentoring relationships and develop career skills. This can help them as they learn to be problem solvers and to think outside of the box, as those are transferable skills useful in every area of work and life.
Dr. Wolf went on to discuss the intricacies of employment and the stigmas behind both visible and hidden disabilities. “I am incredibly positive about this generation, they guide us to think outside the box.” Dr. Wolf succinctly summarized the feelings of the morning with one word: hopeful. Yes, there are several lasting and deep challenges that the community faces vis a vis the inclusion of youth with disabilities, but the way to uncover stigma is by having real and sometimes tough conversations which point out the systemic oppression and pave the road for progress. Dr. Wolf concluded her talk with this video.
Partners for Youth with Disabilities is one of the groups leading this movement, and with the support of Social Innovation Forum and Liberty Mutual Insurance, the progress can be great.
PYD is excited to work with SIF and Liberty Mutual Insurance, who is PYD’s SIF track sponsor. Regina Snowden, Founder and Executive Director of PYD said that PYD wants “to ensure that youth with disabilities have the confidence and the resources to succeed.” Liberty Mutual Insurance, as a top donor, helps to ensure those resources are available.
Klare Shaw of Liberty Mutual Insurance shared that “PYD’s mentorship program offers training…and through those avenues they help forge paths. We are happy to help.”
As stated by Susan Musinsky of Social Innovation Forum, “We want to help build the capacity for PYD so they evolve to do the work they want to do. We are hoping to articulate their work so they can best move forward.” PYD is confident that through our journey with SIF we can become even stronger advocates for youth with disabilities, and together we can spark more change leading to greater inclusivity.
This blog post written by PYD’s BU PRLab Account Executives with editorial guidance from PYD Staff.