Employment Specialists Can Create Social Change


As the nation celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and its many successes, it’s a good time to examine how far we’ve come as a nation in ensuring the civil rights of people with disabilities.

One of the foundations of any civil rights movement is the right to employment. Employment professionals–also called employment support professionals or employment specialists–help people with disabilities find fulfilling work.

While these professionals may not think of themselves as agents of social change, their work can be an avenue toward equal rights for everyone.

“When people with disabilities find work in the community, it improves the community as a whole,” says Genni Sasnett, an independent human services consultant. Sasnett has worked with the Institute for Community Inclusion at the University of Massachusetts Boston and the Office of Disability Employment Policy at the U.S. Department of Labor. She assisted six states to transform their employment services from sheltered workshops (segregated work settings) into community-based employment.

Sasnett notes that by supporting people with disabilities to find community employment specialists are at the forefront of this civil rights movement. “Employment Specialists have the opportunity to present people with disabilities in an entirely new light,” she explains. “They have the capability of beginning to change that perception in society of a person who only needs support to someone who is able to contribute.”

People with disabilities who wish to work often face systemic and social barriers. “Why would employers hire people with disabilities,” Sasnett says, “when they haven’t had the opportunity to experience or observe their productivity, or how it will affect their bottom line as a business? They don’t have the experience as a business to see that it is a good thing that will help them make money.”

“Social change doesn’t happen overnight,” Sasnett adds. “But the path is there and we’ll continue on it and we won’t turn back. The more we can get folks into meaningful positions in society where they can be seen as being of value,that changes all those perceptions. And that perception change is what brings about people’s civil rights.”

Sasnett notes that employment specialists change communities, but their greatest impact is on the person they’re supporting. “If they are really listening to people with disabilities when they say what they want to do with their lives, and their preferences, and then helping them find that perfect job, that person is able to grow and see the benefits of working, and understand their own value, and worth. When you’re rewarded in ways that tell you you’re valuable—like with paychecks—then you start getting confidence and you start pushing the limits.”

Listen to a webinar recording in which Sasnett talks more on this topic.

The DirectCourse/College of Employment Services curriculum has many courses that give employment specialists the tools they need to help people find meaningful work. Our course called Principles of Career Development is a good one to start with.

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