National Disability Employment Awareness Month

National Disability Employment Awareness Month

Col. Corey Simmons, 436th Airlift Wing vice commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Sarah A. Sparks, 436th Command Chief, recognize Kimberly Utley, Dover Air Force Base Ability One BSC store manager, along with other employees from Chimes and Ability One for their inclusive employment practices, which directly benefit both their employees and the installation. A panel discussion followed with experts from the local disability community, state agencies and local education organizations on the topic of transition from educational settings to employment as well as transitions for disabled veterans and spouses to work. (Courtesy Photo)

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- Across the nation, many people are wearing pink in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month or purple to bring awareness to Domestic Violence. Since 1945, October has also brought awareness to individuals with disabilities and their contributions to employers and the world. Each year, National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) educates communities across the United States about the benefits of an inclusive workforce through events and activities that highlight the abilities of the disability community.

Dover Air Force Base has joined the conversation around this year’s NDEAM theme “Inclusion Drives Innovation” by focusing on the issue of transition to employment for youth with disabilities. On Wednesday, Oct. 18, Col. Corey Simmons, 436th Airlift Wing vice commander, recognized employees from Chimes and Ability One for their inclusive employment practices, which directly benefit both their employees and the installation. A panel discussion followed with experts from the local disability community, state agencies, and local education on the topic of transition from educational settings to employment as well as transitions for disabled veterans and spouses to work. Simmons launched the discussion with the question “What’s the next thing?” Todd Webb, American Disabilities Act coordinator for DelDOT, responded that increasing opportunities for job skills training initiatives such as Project SEARCH that prepares students in their last year of high school for meaningful employment. Lloyd Schmitz, a visually impaired advocate with the State Council of Persons with Disabilities and the Employment First Commission, added that employers need to continue to be educated that “people with disabilities have ABILITIES” and that technology has been integral in helping to level the playing field for these individuals and will continue to be increasingly important.

The panel also addressed where individuals can go to seek assistance and how parents can prepare themselves and their children who are transitioning to adulthood. The State of Delaware offers many services through the Department of Labor’s Vocational Rehabilitation program for both transitioning students and adults who are transitioning to the workforce after injury or separation from the military. Mr. Rene Valadares, from the base civilian personnel office, stated there are also programs at the federal level to assist individuals with disabilities in gaining employment. Other resources include the school districts and the Department of Education who mandate that students be offered transition services beginning at age 14. Ms. Kathi Stephan, Transition Coordinator with the John S. Charlton School, added “it is never too early to plan” when you are talking about transition. Not only are students preparing to transition from the education system to the employment world, but they also must plan to transition from pediatric services to adult services. This means they will need new medical providers, insurance benefits may change, and community services change as well. The underlying theme throughout the panel discussion was to keep pushing forward, and to keep the lines of communication open.

Panelists included:

Kimberly Utley, Ability One BSC Store Manager DAFB
Todd Webb—ADA Title II/Section 504 Coordinator, DelDOT
Lloyd Schmitz--Employment First Commission and State Council for the Blind
Kathi Stephan--Transition Coordinator, John S. Charlton School
Kevin Thompson--Director of Student Services, Caesar Rodney School District