It is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, a month set to acknowledge and celebrate the many contributions people with disabilities make to the U.S. workforce and economy. However, this community continues to be underrepresented in the workplace.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 21.3% of Americans age 16 and over with disabilities were working or actively looking for work which is far below the 67.1% rate for Americans without disabilities.
At M Booth, we say, “Thrive One, Thrive All,” because we are building a culture that enables ALL employees to thrive by giving every individual support to unleash their greatest potential. When it comes to inclusion for Boothers with disabilities – and inclusion overall – we believe that each and every one of us should be accountable for this work regardless of your position or tenure. This is why we are very excited to introduce Bonnie Ulman MIller, our very first executive champion for disability inclusion at M Booth. Over the years, Bonnie has been in the background advocating and working with appropriate teams across the agency for accommodations and modifications for Boothers with disabilities.
Hear from Bonnie below about why this work is important to her:
Years ago, I had the opportunity to take a position as a therapeutic riding instructor, working as part of a team supporting children and adults living with a range of physical, cognitive and emotional conditions. Anyone who knows me also knows that I would have accepted just about any job that allowed me to work with horses. I took on this role not sure what to expect and the first month was awkward at best. I lacked confidence when it came to communicating with the students – I didn’t always understand them and they often didn’t understand me – and as a result I made mistakes.
But thanks to the gift of time and the students’ grace, I had more opportunities to listen and to engage. I spent concentrated time with Kelley, a 6th-grader with cerebral palsy, who taught me how to slow down, take the time to think about what kind of support was needed in the moment and to be as patient with myself as I needed to be for her. And over time, our barn crew grew from being just “the horse people” to partners, helping the students navigate real world obstacles, like flexing rarely used muscles or learning to process directions.
The work was personal and intense, and hard in every sense of the word. To be effective, I had to acknowledge my misperceptions and set aside every notion I had about what defines a disability. As a result, I came to realize that the students didn’t define themselves by their disability but by their potential, measured in small wins each day.
This month, M Booth welcomed actress Sue Ann Pien, who discussed disability inclusion in the workplace and how we can be better allies for our colleagues with disabilities. Pien who stars in the Amazon series As We See It and identifies as an individual on the Autism Spectrum, spoke about the importance of setting up spaces where we can all win, where “we can be seen as whole people.”
In the end, don’t we all have some sort of hiccup, obstacle, or challenge we have to deal with? Don’t we all wish to be seen as a whole person and to be understood? Like Sue Ann, I am still on my journey of reflecting and enjoying the “beautiful spectrum of life.” Won’t you join me?