Federal Agencies Exceed Disability Hiring Goal


The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) recently released the Report on the Employment of Individuals with Disabilities in the Federal Executive Branch. Federal employees with disabilities represent 14.41 percent of the overall workforce, accounting for 264,844 people. This is more people with disabilities in Federal service, both in real terms and by percentage, than at any time in the past 35 years.

“This Administration has consistently demonstrated a commitment to providing equal employment opportunities for Americans with disabilities,” said Beth Cobert, Acting Director of the Office of Personnel Management. “We remain committed to supporting the Federal Government’s efforts to be a model employer for people with disabilities, and I look forward to continue building on our progress.”

In July 2010, President Obama issued Executive Order (EO) 13548 Increasing Federal Employment of Individuals with Disabilities, to mark the historic 20th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The EO provides that as the nation’s largest employer, the Federal Government must become a model for the employment of individuals with disabilities. “My Administration is dedicated to upholding our Nation’s promise of equal opportunity for all and advancing employment for people with disabilities in every community,” President Obama said. “I am proud that the Federal Government is leading by example as a model employer.

From FY 2011 to FY 2015, the years Federal agencies have been implementing the EO, the Federal Government hired 109,575 part-time and full-time career employees with disabilities. This major milestone exceeded the Administration’s goal to hire 100,000 people with disabilities.

OPM continues to work with partner agencies to improve efforts to employ workers with disabilities through increased recruitment, hiring, and retention. For example, OPM developed an online course entitled, A Roadmap to Success: Hiring, Retaining and Including People with Disabilities. This course, which is now available to all Federal agencies, provides Federal employees with basic information and resources to successfully hire, retain, and advance employees with disabilities.

Source: U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM)

This 31-year-old woman with Down syndrome launched a cookie company 5 years ago — and has already made over $1.2 million

iVitto is the CEO and COO of Collettey’s Cookies, a fast-growing bakery start-up that sells cookies online, at 7-Eleven convenience stores and at the TD Garden sports arena in Boston.

By Cory Stieg, CNBC

At age 26, Collete DiVitto had just graduated from Clemson University. She moved to Boston in hopes of working and living on her own — but hiring managers kept saying she “wasn’t a good fit.”

“I was ready to be independent,” DiVitto, now 31, tells CNBC Make It. ”[But] it was hard to find jobs.”

Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, DiVitto — who was born with the genetic disorder Down syndrome — had quiet aspirations to turn her baking hobby into her own business. The process felt daunting, so her mother, Rosemary Alfredo, decided to teach her the basics of getting a small business up and running.

Today, DiVitto is the CEO and COO of Collettey’s Cookies, a fast-growing bakery start-up that sells cookies online, at 7-Eleven convenience stores and at the TD Garden sports arena in Boston. The Charlestown, Massachusetts-based company has made $1.2 million in lifetime revenue since launching in December 2016, according to a CNBC Make It estimate, which the company confirmed.

Collettey’s Cookies is also profitable, the company says — no small feat in a daunting food industry.

The company has 15 employees, many of whom also have disabilities, which DiVitto says is intentional: A challenging job market is an unfortunate reality for the majority of adults with disabilities in the United States. In 2020, only 17.9 percent of people with a disability were employed, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

DiVitto says she makes a point to personally train her employees with disabilities, one-on-one. “Creating more jobs for people who are disabled,” she says. “That’s my whole mission.”

Crafting a recipe for a small business
Entrepreneurship runs in DiVitto’s family.

Her maternal grandfather owned a small landscaping business. Today, Alfredo and her siblings each own several businesses. “We’re all kind of sassy and stubborn,” Alfredo says, citing both as valuable qualities when you’re working for yourself and tasked with regularly making big decisions.

Alfredo’s first step to teaching entrepreneurship: walking DiVitto through the logistical steps of determining a legal structure, registering the business, designing a logo and creating a website. Then, DiVitto — who has been baking since age 4 — brought samples of her chocolate chip cinnamon cookies to a local Boston shop called Golden Goose Market.

Perhaps she got lucky, or the desserts were really tasty, or both: The market’s owner, intrigued, ordered 100 12-packs of cookies. “We’re buying 40-pound bags of flour, bringing them into our apartment, thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t know what’s gonna happen,’” Alfredo recalls.

“I was so scared at the very beginning,” DiVitto adds. But landing the deal, she says, made her feel “amazing and confident. I never, ever felt that way in my entire life.”

The following week, the pair secured space in a commercial kitchen, giving DiVitto more cookie-making space. Altogether, Alfredo says, it cost “less than $20,000” in out-of-pocket expenses to get the business off the ground — with most of that going to kitchen rent.

And then, as Alfredo puts it, DiVitto’s story “went viral.”

DiVitto says she sold 4,000 cookies in her first three months of business, and more than 550,000 since launching. As of Monday, Collettey’s Cookies has more than 40,000 followers on Facebook, and another 28,000-plus on Instagram.

According to the company: DiVitto’s chocolate chip cinnamon cookie — called “The Amazing Cookie” — remains the most popular of the company’s five flavor options.

Paying it forward to aspiring entrepreneurs
When it comes to developing recipes and baking the cookies, DiVitto is the expert and authority. “My mom and also her family, they don’t know anything about baking,” she says. She’s in the commercial kitchen six days per week, often starting work at 4 a.m.

She’s also born much of the weight of growing the company. Alfredo says Collettey’s Cookies has never received outside funding, though not for lack of trying: “That was our biggest challenge, people questioning [DiVitto’s] abilities and the potential success of the company with her as the CEO and COO.”

Nadya Rousseau, the founder and CEO of marketing and PR firm Alter New Media, credits DiVitto’s success to a mix of ambition and direct candor — the same factors, she says, that drew her to work with Collettey’s Cookies pro bono earlier this year.

“I just was struck with how authentic she was, and straightforward,” Rousseau says. “So many people have layer upon layer in front of them and they can’t just speak their truth. She’s always speaking her truth.”

Click here to read the full article on CNBC.

Building a Future for the Disabled, One Cup of Coffee at a Time

Team members at a Bitty & Beau’s in Annapolis, Md.Source: Bitty & Beau cafe for a cup of coffee

By , Bloomberg.

While businesses across the U.S. struggle to find enough employees, Bitty & Beau’s coffee shops say their attrition rate is near zero and they’re inundated with applications every time a location opens. That’s because the chain primarily hires workers from a demographic advocates say has an unemployment rate above 80%: people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. “There’s an untapped labor force of people with disabilities in every community,” says Amy Wright, who co-founded the company with her husband, Ben, six years ago. “Most of our employees have never had a job before.”

Almost 90% of the 350-plus employees at Bitty & Beau’s 11 locations have a disability, doing everything from working as baristas to helping plan strategy in the corporate office. The Wrights decline to share specifics, but they say Bitty & Beau’s is both fast-growing and profitable—no small feat in an industry dominated by the likes of StarbucksDunkin’, and Peet’s. “We’re trying to shift the way society thinks about people with disabilities from charity to prosperity,” Ben Wright says. “You can run a profitable business that employs people with disabilities.”

The couple were inspired to get into the business after two of their four children (son Beau, 17, and daughter Bitty, 12) were born with Down syndrome. Although neither parent had experience running a coffee shop or any other type of hospitality or retail operation—they met as actors in New York before Ben switched to a career in finance and Amy shifted her focus to raising the family—they decided to open their first shop after relocating to Wilmington, N.C. Initiatives with a similar mission exist as nonprofits, but the Wrights wanted Bitty & Beau’s to be a profit-generating company to ensure that it remains sustainable. “If the nonprofit world had been able to solve this,” Amy says, “it would’ve already.”

Businesses such as Bitty & Beau’s can play an important leadership role, says Silvia Bonaccio, a professor of workplace psychology at the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management. Some advocates for disability employment say it would be better if all types of companies were to hire employees with disabilities rather than “segregating” them at places such as coffee shops, but that’s not happening. So it’s important, Bonaccio says, for someone to demonstrate the contributions such people can make. “Employers continue to overlook a significant pool of talent,” she says. “One business can be a catalyst for change.”

In 2020, Bitty & Beau’s shifted to a franchise model. On their own the Wrights could open only about one location each year, and they were fielding requests from people across the U.S. who wanted a shop in their town. The company says it’s on track to expand to 27 locations in more than a dozen states in the next year or so, and within a decade the Wrights aim to have at least one shop in all 50 states.

a woman is seated in the Bitty & Beaus coffee house with decorative artwork on the walls
A Bitty & Beau’s in Athens, Ga.
Photographer: Kayla Renie/USAToday/IMAGN

The cost of opening a location ranges from $350,000 to more than $700,000, including a $40,000 franchise fee (roughly in line with what big fast-food chains charge). In exchange, franchisees are given the right to use the name, along with training and detailed guidelines for furnishing and operating the shop. The Wrights say that given the number of requests they get, a big part of their job now is vetting potential franchisees to ensure they’re going into the business with the right intentions and will abide by their rules for running a shop. “We say no to people more than we say yes,” Amy says.

At the recently opened outlet in Bethlehem, Pa., one wall is packed with clothing, beach towels, mugs, and other merchandise bearing awareness-raising messages like “radically inclusive” and “not broken.” Even the Wi-Fi password—“abletowork”—underscores the chain’s mission of providing jobs to people with disabilities. Every cup of coffee, pastry, and product sold comes with a handwritten note of gratitude.

Click here to read the full article on Bloomberg.

Unique business hoping to create brighter futures for people with special abilities

The Catozzi family

By Andrea Albers, WTMJ

As graduation approaches, many teens are preparing for life beyond high school, but some with special needs are struggling to find options. One Elkhorn mother decided to create her own solution, and it could lead to a brighter future for her daughter. 16-year-old Stephanie Catozzi loves to draw smiley faces. And that smile jumps right off the page when she’s with her family. “She can’t write her name so she would sign cards, and everything, with smiley faces,” explained Becky Catozzi, her mother.

The Catozzis want to keep that smile shining big and bright but they worry about Stephanie’s future. “At this point, we assume she’s always going to be living with us,” continued Becky. “That’s the safest for her now.”

Stephanie has been diagnosed with autism, apraxia, and a learning disability. As her peers start exploring options after high school — like college or a job — Stephanie’s mom says Stephanie struggles with people crowding her space, and overstimulation, and it can come out as aggression. “Something could happen — and she gets upset and we don’t know how that would work in a regular job with other people, around strangers, around noises,” said Becky.

That’s why the family launched Stephanie’s Shirt Shop. They hope to build an online business big enough to create a stable future for Stephanie and eventually hire others with special abilities in the area.

Once Stephanie turns 18, she becomes eligible to receive support from the Walworth County Aging & Disability Resource Center. Every county in Wisconsin has an ADRC.

“The options that are available — you’d be surprised,” said Hazel Miller, an ADRC supervisor for Milwaukee County. “There are a lot of free resources in the community that are available for people with disabilities.” In Milwaukee County, Miller works with nearly three dozen counselors focused on meeting with families to set goals, find resources, and create action plans. “I’m always talking with families and parents and saying ‘Hey — you’re not doing this alone, we’re here. We have the resources, we have the services, we wanna walk this with you.'”

The Catozzis are open to exploring programs for adults with disabilities and as Autism Awareness Month comes to an end, they hope you carry forward the message of inclusion they’re working to spread. “Just learning that they (people living with Autism) are still people,” said Becky. “There’s nothing wrong with them. They don’t need to be fixed or cured. Accept them for who they are. Stephanie is just is a happy 16-year-old girl.”

Click here to read the full article on WTMJ.

As a financial planner, I see people forget a critically important type of insurance over and over

Hanna Horvath is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER talking about disability insurance. photo shows her wearing a tan sweater against a white background.

By , Insider

Insurance is a great risk management tool to financially protect yourself against unexpected events. But when most people think about financial risk, they think about a house fire or car crash. Few people think about losing one of their most valuable assets — their income.

As a financial planner, I see many people go without disability insurance because they think they don’t need it. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

One in four adults will be out of work for at least a year due to a disability. Very few people have enough savings to cover a year in lost income — in fact, three in 10 American adults are unable to cover a $400 emergency. Disability insurance can take the sting out of these situations.

Disability insurance is for everyone
Disability insurance is not just for workers in high-risk jobs; most injuries and illnesses happen outside of work. The most common disability insurance claims are for work-induced musculoskeletal disorders, like back pain or tendinitis, cancer, pregnancy, and mental-health issues.

If you’re the breadwinner, you need disability insurance to protect your income for not just you, but your loved ones who rely on you. The same goes for those paying off debt — if you find yourself out of work, you’ll still need to be making monthly debt payments.

There are two types of disability insurance: long-term and short-term. Like the names suggest, short-term disability covers you for a shorter amount of time, typically under three months, while long-term disability insurance can cover your lost income for years, depending on the policy you have.

Other types of coverage often aren’t enough
Many people have short-term disability insurance through their employer, but that only covers you for a short amount of time. What’s more, the benefits typically only cover a portion of your salary and are taxable because your employer is paying the premium.

Unless you get injured on the job or your injury was directly related to work, workers’ compensation will typically not cover your injury or illness.

Social Security does offer some disability insurance coverage, but the application process is often very time consuming and has a 70% denial rate, and likely won’t cover your entire income. You may not have the time and savings to wait for your claim to go through after you get injured or sick. What’s more, the average monthly Social Security disability income benefit was $1,279 a month, which may not be enough to cover your lost income.

Purchasing a long-term disability insurance policy can help cover some of these gaps, and provide tax-free income if the unexpected happens.

Disability insurance isn’t as expensive as you think
The average cost of a long-term disability insurance policy is 1% to 3% your annual salary, though costs will vary.

Your job, salary, and level of health are some of the factors that determine how much your policy premiums will cost. The type of policy also affects the cost — whether it’s an any-occupation or own-occupation policy.

Any-occupation disability insurance will cover you if you’re unable to generally work in your line of work, and own-occupation covers you if you’re unable to perform your specific job. Own-occupation policies cover your income better, but are often more expensive.

How to decide on a disability insurance plan
When considering how much disability insurance to get (or if you even need it), think about your job, how much you make, and who would cover your bills if you were to become sick or injured.

Short-term policies last a maximum 26 weeks and cover around 40-60% of your income. Long-term policies can last the rest of your life and typically replace 40%-60% of your income. You should take a closer look at your current financial situation to decide how much coverage you need.

Even if your employer offers disability insurance (and especially if they don’t) you should purchase an individual plan. It will travel with you if you leave your job, so you’ll always be covered.

One strategy I personally use and recommend is laddering your disability insurance policies, which basically involves holding both long-term and short-term disability insurance policies. Short-term disability policies have a short elimination period before paying out benefits, while long-term disability insurance policies have longer waiting periods, typically around 90 days. Laddering your policies ensures you start getting paid right after an illness or injury.

Click here to read the full article on Insider.

Equality Vs. Equitability: What’s Still Missing from a Diverse Workplace?

Equality Vs. Equitability: What’s Still Missing from a Diverse Workplace?

By Lisa Cox, DIVERSEability Magazine

Equality in the workplace is all the buzz in the HR world. If you’re a business owner, finding ways to expand your workforce and diversify your client base will benefit your company culture and your brand’s revenue-generating potential.

As a whole, businesses have made concerted efforts towards achieving diversity, but while some of these efforts are commendable, others are clearly tokenistic in an attempt to look good on paper. We’re not seeing notable transformation in our societies or upliftment in disadvantaged communities. Which begs the question: What isn’t working?

Is equality realistic at this point?

Possibly a controversial question that begs asking: is equality realistic? We want a business industry that is high-functioning, diverse, collaborative and that ultimately boosts the entire country’s economic net-worth. We want to encourage disadvantaged members of the population to gain meaningful employment and transform the roles they play as part of our society. With businesses wanting to fulfil these needs, why are they still largely unmet? Should we examine equitability first? Let’s start by defining it.

Equity is the missing piece of the puzzle

Picture yourself attending a show. Everyone who attends the show gets the same welcome package: binoculars, popcorn and booklet. It doesn’t matter what kind of vehicle you arrived in, whether you’re male or female or if you’re disabled or use some sort of mobility aid, everyone gets the same welcome box.

This is an example of equality. It means regardless of who you are, you can expect the same treatment as every other attendee.

Equitability means that not everyone is able to attend. There are potential guests that may enjoy the show. They’re welcome to arrive. However, the show doesn’t offer wheelchair access. The show is too far away from the outlying areas where poorer people live. The show runs through the same time as most parenting duties. People with disabilities, people from low-income areas and parents, while welcome, will not be able to attend.

Regardless of the hosts’ statements regarding equality, if it’s not equitable (meaning accessible), equality still only applies to a select number of people who are in the position of privilege to be able to attend. Now, think of it as a workplace and not as a show.

How equity makes equality attainable

Equity in the workplace is slightly different from the above analogy, but that scene demonstrates the problem. We can create the most encouraging and positive work environments for a diverse range of people. However, until full-time employment is accessible and practical for disadvantaged individuals, equality remains theoretical. Examples of equality that needs equitability in order to make it work, include:

  • For women: equitability means offering both men and women maternity leave. The fact that only women get maternity leaves suggests that it is solely the woman’s job to raise a family, thus setting aside her career aspirations. This assumption also means that women of childbearing age come with added risks, expenses and stress, so employers would rather hire a man. For women, equitability also means having flexible work options.
  • For workers with disabilities: Professionals with disabilities are often asked for their thoughts on equality. Many of them feel that until workplaces have wheelchair access, provide protocols that enable time off to see specialists and remain flexible enough to allow workers to achieve their KPIs in a less rigid 9-5 schedule, working is also inequitable and largely inaccessible to them. Note: “Wheelchair access” isn’t just about access by those using a wheelchair. It can also mean people using other mobility aids or those who can walk but may have difficulty with long distances or stairs. In these instances, individuals may prefer to use access points for those of us in wheelchairs.
  • Skilled workers from disadvantaged communities: For many skilled and qualified individuals that have proven they have the tenacity to make it through university, working at high-performing firms is still not an option, regardless of how the company might embrace “workers from all walks of life.” Traveling from outlying areas makes the daily commute completely impossible while moving closer is also impractical due to financial and resource restraints. Unless companies offer remote working options, once again, equality remains theoretical simply because the opportunity for employment is not attainable to someone who isn’t already in a position of privilege.

Although workplace equity is a challenging task to tackle, it is a worthwhile investment that leads to many benefits. including increased innovation, employee engagement and retention, financial performance and contributing to the bottom line. The catch is that, in order to reap the full benefits, companies cannot just be equitable on paper. They need to dedicate time and effort to understanding the needs and challenges of certain employee groups and work to bridge those gaps while aligning their business goals. Only then can companies create an equitable and inclusive environment that attracts diverse talent and brings out the true potential in each employee.

How entrepreneurs with disabilities are making their own space in the business world

Toronto-based entrepreneur Eyra Abraham founded Lisnen, a mobile app that allows users to receive notifications of critical sounds like fire alarms and sirens.

By Sarah Laing, The Globe and Mail

This article is part of a package produced by the Globe Women’s Collective around International Women’s Day and this year’s theme of #BreakTheBias

Eyra Abraham felt the call to entrepreneurship like an alarm ringing in the middle of the night. More specifically, one that she couldn’t hear – with potentially life-threatening consequences.

“I slept through a fire drill in this condo that I had purchased in Nova Scotia,” says Ms. Abraham, who is hard of hearing and wasn’t able to hear the alarm out in the building’s hallway. “I only found out that I missed it when the property manager [mentioned it].”

When she investigated ways to make sure that didn’t happen again, Ms. Abraham’s only options were rewiring her entire apartment (which would be expensive and inconvenient) or purchasing a device from the U.S. to amplify the sound from the hallway (one that didn’t even work because fire alarm tones are different in Canada). Knowing she was moving soon, Ms. Abraham just left things as they were.

Fast forward to her next apartment, this time in Toronto: one night Ms. Abraham woke up to the smell of smoke. She checked her phone, looking to see if the building had texted her an alert to evacuate, which is how they were supposed to accommodate people with hearing loss for emergency alerts. Nothing.

“I called the front desk and nobody was answering,” recalls Ms. Abraham of her panic as she wondered if she was the last person left in the building. “I finally Googled and found that it was a fire a couple blocks away and the smoke was just going through the building.”

It was a crystallizing moment for Ms. Abraham. She realized that what she wanted was a solution with sound recognition that worked with her own smart device, “so wherever I go I can get notifications, and I don’t need to go through the whole procedure to get assistive care or a device installed or any of that.”

Not long after, in 2017, Ms. Abraham founded Lisnen, a mobile app that uses artificial intelligence to identify sounds like fire alarms or sirens and turn those into notifications that deaf or hard of hearing people can use to be aware of everything that’s going on around them.

“I got frustrated waiting for someone else to make it,” says Ms. Abraham, who was working in communications at the time but had studied computer science at university. “I decided to take it on myself.”

That motivation – seeing a need that no one else is addressing and going for it – is a common thread in many entrepreneurial origin stories. For founders of intersecting marginalized identities, including those with a disability like Ms. Abraham, innovation often comes from living in a world built for a very narrow window of human experience, where founders can see space for new ideas because they have an outsider’s perspective.

‘Silent awkwardness’
People with disabilities are vastly under-represented in entrepreneurship – a 2021 BDO study showed that just 0.5 per cent of small or medium-sized businesses in Canada are owned by a person with a disability, despite the fact that an estimated 22 per cent of Canadians live with one or more disability. While the range of businesses helmed by people with disabilities is varied, these business owners often face common barriers.

Ms. Abraham says there is often a “silent awkwardness” when she first walks into a room with potential investors.

“The reality is, there are not a lot of people like myself coming into these meetings and having these conversations with stakeholders or partners,” Ms. Abraham says. “There’s a lot of relationship-building and trust that takes time, so I have to quickly identify commonalities with that person so they realize that I’m not different [from them].”

Ms. Abraham points out that while some might see a product like Lisnen as being solely for people with disabilities, the pioneering work of entrepreneurs with disabilities has often benefitted the masses.

“Most of the technology we have in the mainstream started with a use case to support people with disability,” says Ms. Abraham, pointing to the telephone, which Alexander Graham Bell first developed as a speech aid for deaf people, and texting, which Nokia introduced as an alternative for audio communication. She also points to voice-activated devices like Siri and Alexa, which use technology first developed as assistive technologies.

If information like that was more widely known, it could be the “missing link” to getting stakeholders and investors on board a bit easier, Ms. Abraham says.

“There’s a potential return for investors,” she says. “This is not a niche for a few thousand people. This is a product that can impact many people around the world.”

Breaking the corporate mould
For Stefani Blazevic, entrepreneurship was about carving out a career when the corporate mould didn’t fit.

While her goal had always been to start her own business eventually, Ms. Blazevic’s autoimmune condition meant that her years in corporate were, in her words, “not easy.” She had to take vacation days for medical appointments and struggled to get crucial resources such as an ergonomic keyboard. Plus, the pressure of long hours and travel caused her disease to progress.

When she was “packaged out” of her position, Ms. Blasevic says she knew it was time to launch her own venture. Now, she runs a recruiting firm, InfloHR, which affords her the autonomy, flexibility and earning power she didn’t have before.

“If I want to work part-time, I can scale back. If I want to hire someone, I can do that. It’s up to me,” she says.

Like many other people with disabilities, necessity forced Ms. Blasevic to create her own space to flourish, and it’s part of why she works hard to find those same opportunities for other people.

“It’s my calling,” she says of finding the right fit for both candidates and employers. Along the way, she shares her work/life tips – such as ways to leverage technology to automate the mundane parts of her job – to ensure that people of all abilities find the same kind of career satisfaction she’s found by forging her own path.

Click here to read the full article on The Globe and Mail.

‘CODA’ takes top prize at SAG Awards in a major win for Deaf representation

Marlee Matlin

BY Christi Carras, The Los Angeles Times

In a major triumph for Deaf representation in Hollywood, the ensemble of “CODA” clinched the top prize Sunday at the 2022 Screen Actors Guild Awards.

After receiving two SAG nominations, the heartwarming Apple TV+ dramedy about a child of Deaf adults (CODA) won them both, including the coveted award for performance by a cast in a motion picture. Unlike any previous SAG Award film ensemble winner, “CODA” centers on multiple Deaf characters portrayed by Deaf actors.

Directed by Sian Heder, the acclaimed family film stars Emilia Jones as a hearing teen raised by a Deaf mother (Marlee Matlin), father (Troy Kotsur) and older brother (Daniel Durant). Also nominated this year for film ensemble were “Belfast,” “Don’t Look Up,” “House of Gucci” and “King Richard.” Additionally, Kotsur made history Sunday as the first Deaf actor ever to receive an individual SAG Award for his supporting performance as tender-hearted fisherman Frank Rossi. He prevailed over hearing actors Ben Affleck (“The Tender Bar”), Bradley Cooper (“Licorice Pizza”), Jared Leto (“House of Gucci”) and Kodi Smit-McPhee (“Power of the Dog”).

Because SAG winners are crowned by their acting peers — who make up a sizable chunk of Oscars voters — the award for film ensemble has historically given best picture nominees a slight advantage leading up to the Academy Awards. “CODA” is Oscar-nominated for best picture this year alongside “Belfast,” “Don’t Look Up,” “Drive My Car,” “Dune,” “King Richard,” “Licorice Pizza,” “Nightmare Alley,” “The Power of the Dog” and “West Side Story.”

Cast of Coda accept award onstage at Sag awards show
Troy Kotsur, Daniel Durant, Emilia Jones, Marlee Matlin and Eugenio Derbez, winners of Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture for CODA, pose in the press room during the 28th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at Barker Hangar on February 27, 2022 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Kotsur also earned an Oscar nomination for supporting actor opposite Ciarán Hinds (“Belfast”), Jesse Plemons (“The Power of the Dog”), J.K. Simmons (“Being the Ricardos”) and Kodi Smit-McPhee (“The Power of the Dog”). He became the first Deaf male actor to score an Oscar nomination more than 30 years after Matlin — his onscreen wife in “CODA” — became the first Deaf performer of any gender to receive an Oscar nomination, as well as the first Deaf actor to win an Academy Award, for her leading performance in “Children of a Lesser God.”

“I’m tired of Deaf people being portrayed as a victim,” Kotsur said recently in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.

“‘Oh, hearing people are here to help the poor Deaf person.’ This time, in this project, I just want to show some b—, some real Deaf b—, that hey, this character’s a tough guy, a Deaf male who struggles just like anyone else out there who owns a small business. The only thing that’s different is the method of communication.”

“CODA” previously made history when it premiered at the 2021 virtual Sundance Film Festival and took home four awards, including the audience award and top prize from the U.S. dramatic competition jury.

Matlin led the film’s ensemble in the acceptance speech and notes: “This validates the fact that we, Deaf actors, can work just like anybody else. We look forward to more opportunities for Deaf actors, Deaf culture.”

Click here to read the full on the Los Angeles Times.

Returning To Work With A Disability? Case Managers Share Top 5 Questions

Young woman hard at work to see papers she is holding close up

By Paula Morgan, Forbes

Case Managers handle many different aspects of helping people with disabilities get back to work.

Even before they begin the process of assisting with a job search, Case Managers dispel myths job seekers have about the Ticket to Work (TTW) program. TTW helps Social Security disability beneficiaries get back to work when their medical condition has stabilized or improved. The program gives former workers significant incentives to return to the workforce, including protecting their Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits and Medicare coverage while they work. I checked in with our team of Case Managers at Allsup Employment Services (AES) to learn the most frequently asked questions they receive from new clients. Here’s what they reported back.

Independent Job Searches

Q: I can look for employment on my own and deal with the Social Security Administration (SSA) directly. How can you help me?

A: We have a lot of clients who are independent with their job search efforts and may not need a high level of assistance in terms of looking for employment. However, we can act as a resource for:

-Job leads
-Employment options
-Requesting reasonable accommodations
-Assisting with job interview preparation

Additionally, we can help job candidates with their reporting obligations to Social Security when they do become employed. We can submit their paystubs directly to SSA so they don’t have to, and, most importantly, we can keep track of their monthly income.

Working While Receiving Benefits

Q: Is it true that I can only work a certain amount of hours and still keep my benefits?

A: That is incorrect. While beneficiaries are in their Trial Work Period (TWP), they can work and earn as much as they choose. The TWP allows them to test their ability to work and still receive their full SSDI benefit each month regardless of how much they earn. The TWP is a time to maximize their earning potential.

Earning Limitations

Q: I heard I can’t earn more than $1,300 per month and keep my benefits. Is that true?

A: While there is some truth to this statement, it also is a short-term perspective that can be harmful to the financial future of beneficiaries. They can return to work and earn $1,300/month or less, and still keep their monthly benefit. However, they may be using up their Trial Work Period (TWP).

A related concern is that beneficiaries could have been earning a higher amount. They use a Trial Work month (TWM) if their monthly earnings exceed $970 in 2022 ($940 in 2021). It’s important to make the best use of Ticket to Work, especially understanding the rules and applying them correctly. This is where the expertise of employment networks (EN) like AES can really help.

Why Your Earnings Matter

Q: Why is it important to keep track of my earnings?

A: SSA bases the program incentives on the amount beneficiaries earn. Their earnings are used to track their progress with TTW, which is a multi-year program. Reporting earnings to the SSA is also important, since part of the agency’s role is to oversee and avoid overpayments from Social Security when a beneficiary is attempting a return to work.

How To Navigate Finances

Q: How do I figure out my finances after I’ve been receiving SSDI?

A: It can be confusing for beneficiaries to understand how to navigate their work and earnings after receiving SSDI. They need to look at their monthly expenses, costs and budget, and how they can make the shift to working again. This can feel overwhelming for them at first, but it’s an area where a Case Manager can provide guidance and encouragement.

As you can see, beneficiaries may have many misconceptions about the Ticket to Work program. Also, the program has nuances that Case Managers can explain to beneficiaries to ensure they understand the program, are adhering to the rules, and take full advantage of the incentives Ticket to Work has to offer.

Click here to read the full article on Forbes.

I Hid My Disability At Work For 6 Years. When I Stopped, My Entire Life Changed.

woman at a desk with a possible invisible disability at work

Jill D. Griffin, HuffPost

In 2002, I planned a monthlong solo trip to Australia.

On my second day on the trail, while crossing an ankle-deep stream, I slipped and my body flipped 180 degrees. I hit my head and then rolled off the side of a waterfall. The waterfall was about 3 feet high and I landed in a reservoir pool. A German tourist, who happened to be there, dragged me out of the pool.

After the fall, I sat on the riverbank — stunned, confused and very concussed — while my tour leader climbed down the bank to meet me. “Do you want medical attention?” the 20-something tour leader asked. My mind flashed back to the medical insurance I had booked for the trip. “Emergency helicopter evacuation costs an additional $250,000,” it read.

“I’m OK,” I replied quickly.

On the short hike to our base camp, I repeatedly tripped and bumped into things. My clothes were covered in blood and my body had cuts and bruises everywhere. I stayed at camp and skipped the hikes for the remaining two days. When I finally got back into Sydney, I walked into the hotel lobby and a guest looked at me before loudly announcing, “Can someone get this woman medical attention?”

With my cuts, bruises, disoriented demeanor, and the same muddy and torn trail pants, I can only imagine how alarming I looked.

At this point, I was too concussed to evaluate what my medical insurance would or wouldn’t cover. And so I refused medical attention and assured the staff I just needed to rest.

A few days later, I flew back to the States.

As my bruises and cuts healed, I thought the worst of it was over. I saw a doctor in New York who ran some tests.

“Everything looks clear to me. You’ve just had a bad concussion,” he said.

Before the accident, a regular day of my life included a 5 a.m. workout, working my corporate marketing job until 10 p.m., and then attending weekday drinks out with co-workers, friends or clients. Somehow, among all that, I maintained a social life and part-time freelance gigs.

A few months after returning from Australia, my co-workers and I were invited on a yacht trip hosted by Forbes magazine. As the boat left the dock, I knew something wasn’t right. I felt disoriented, unwell, and struggled to hold a conversation. I sat in one spot for the whole trip.

When we got back to the harbor, I held onto the rail as I took careful, unbalanced steps. “Wow Jill, it seems like you didn’t hold back on those cocktails,” a co-worker teased.

I hadn’t drunk at all. One of my colleagues helped me into a cab, and I assumed I was seasick.

A few more months went by and I attended a business lunch where something similar happened. I was looking out the windows of the restaurant watching the curtains float in the breeze and cyclists zoom past. I felt woozy and as if I were underwater. I couldn’t concentrate on what my colleagues were saying. When I tried to go to the bathroom, I struggled to stand up. My body flopped back into the chair like a rag doll.

“I think I need to leave,” I said. Strangely, I returned to the office for the rest of the workday. Somehow, I made it back in one piece.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me but I’m seriously not right,” I remember thinking. I was scared.

I booked countless doctor appointments. Whenever a specialist realized they didn’t know how to help me, they stopped answering my phone calls. I had no answers. I was determined to figure it out so I started tracking my triggers: constant movement in my line of sight, flickering lights, loud ambulance sirens, the brakes of the New York City subway screeching to a stop, loud baritone voices — and the list went on. In other words, New York City had transformed itself from a bustling wonderland to a total vestibular nightmare.

Even though I was noticing triggers, I still had no explanation for regularly appearing drunk, slurring words, being unable to concentrate and exhausting easily.

Without a diagnosis or even the vocabulary to describe what was happening to me, I felt a tremendous amount of shame and guilt. I must have done something wrong. How could I be so dumb? I also feared what my injury would mean for my job security. It felt like everyone around me associated value only with high levels of productivity. I had reason to believe that my worth was based on my output. Who wants someone with an undiagnosed head injury on their team?

It is estimated that 10% of people in the United States have an invisible or non-apparent disability. I’d like to think that corporate culture has more awareness and training on disabilities than it did in the early 2000s. However, research shows that there’s still a long way to go. According to Harvard Business Review, most people with non-apparent or invisible disabilities choose not to disclose these to their managers for fear of being seen as less capable and having their career progress stalled.

In the years following my injury, my brain’s default was: If they know, I will lose out on opportunities. Eventually they will fire me. And if I lost my job, then the unthinkable would happen: I’d lose my employer-sponsored health insurance.

Outside of rent and food, all my income was going to medical practitioners that weren’t covered by insurance. Some years, I was paying $50,000 in medical bills (half my salary). I resented that I worked just as hard but I didn’t have the same financial freedom my co-workers had. (I was often asked why I didn’t own an apartment yet and the implication was that I must have spent all my money on shoes.) But without a steady income and health insurance, the diagnosis and treatment plan I desperately wanted would never happen.

For six years, I didn’t tell anyone at work, including HR. As the years went on, I occasionally opened up to a boss whom I saw as an “ally.” Most of the time, they didn’t really listen to me (or my admission was viewed as an inconvenience or it was a “private matter” like getting my period).

And so, I stopped speaking up. I tried to manage triggers as best I could to hide my disability. But “sucking it up” was slowly killing me. My symptoms were getting worse and my vestibular attacks were becoming longer and more frequent.

My catalyst to change my circumstances was a horrible appointment with a neurologist.

This doctor informed me that — to prevent continued deterioration — I needed to avoid all forms of transport or I’d eventually be completely bedridden because, after all, he had “seen this before.”

“Enough! You don’t get to tell me how my life is going to play out” was my primary thought. I resolved to figure out a solution for myself, since health care had failed me.

I read every book, web forum and magazine on brain health. Learning about vestibular disorders and accessing the vocabulary to describe my condition was my ultimate breakthrough. I realized it wasn’t all in my head. I learned why certain triggers caused vestibular attacks.

Discovering clinical language empowered me to be able to describe what I was experiencing. It also gave me evidence of triggers to avoid.

At this point, I had advanced to a higher level of leadership in corporate. My role in the company coupled with my deep knowledge of brain injuries meant I was able to advocate for myself.

I was no longer asking for permission to have my accommodations met. Instead, I would simply ask people if they could stop swaying their bodies so we could finish our conversation. Or I’d ask them to please quit shaking their leg, which vibrated the floor and therefore me. Or to please cease pounding the conference room table when they wanted to make their point. I clearly explained that these actions created vibrations that triggered my vestibular disorder. It was not easy for people to understand or remember.

My entire life changed.

Click here to read the full article on HuffPost.

Self-Employment Can Be A Vital Method For Returning To Work After Disability

woman sitting in front of a computer working.

By Paula Morgan, Forbes

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused considerable turmoil in the American job market for nearly two years. Unemployment levels rose higher in just the first few months of the pandemic than over the first two years of the Great Recession, with low-wage and low-hour workers experiencing the majority of job losses and many economists drawing comparisons to the Great Depression of the 1930s. While the latest news about unemployment is encouraging, the persistence of the virus and its variants leave the future uncertain.

If a silver lining is to be found, though, it may be in the radical increase in self-employment that we have seen during the pandemic. With the rising necessity to switch from in-person to remote work environments, employers are getting more comfortable with enlisting independent contractors. Hiring freelance workers presents a number of benefits for organizations, including the ability to more quickly onboard specialized talent as well as reduce the costs of full-time employee retention.

It’s not just employers who enjoy the benefits of self-employed and freelance workers, though. There are many reasons people might give up their traditional 9-to-5 job in favor of working for themselves, either as a freelance worker or business owner. These are many of the same reasons that self-employment may be appealing to men and women looking to get back into the workforce after leaving due to a medical condition or disability.

Self-employment offers an unparalleled level of autonomy for people with disabilities. Even the best, most employee-centric companies often involve a hierarchy and corporate framework that can involve several levels of accountability and operational processes. Self-employment allows for self-management, letting you use and grow your skills and abilities naturally without the need to answer “up the ladder” within an employer environment.

When various governments and groups mandated lockdown protocols earlier in the pandemic, businesses that relied on employees to work in-person had more complicated issues to resolve, while others were able to successfully pivot to remote/online connectivity. While we hopefully won’t have the same extent of limitations going forward, many employers are allowing workers, and particularly freelancers, the continued flexibility of not having to commute into an office. This can present a tremendous benefit for someone with a disability who has limited mobility.

The concept of work-life balance is getting increased attention among workers, and for a good reason. Everyone has their own personal lives and commitments that they tend to outside of a work environment, whether that is spending time with family members or participating in your favorite hobby. People with disabilities may have additional demands on their time, such as regularly scheduled meetings with medical providers, tests and screening appointments, and physical therapists, which could impact their ability to work a typical eight-hour workday. One benefit of the self-employed lifestyle is getting to set your own work hours that will allow you to be most productive and not conflict with other engagements, while still meeting the company’s business needs.

People who live with disabilities often have to deal with unfair stereotypes, stigma, and assumptions about their condition and abilities. These attitudinal barriers can unfortunately prove to be just as difficult to overcome as any practical limitations posed by their health condition. Self-employment can bring a sense of self-empowerment. The feeling of truly being in control of one’s life and being able to make real, tangible contributions to a team or workforce can have a significant positive impact on a person’s mental health and self-image.

Click here to read the full article on Forbes.

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Upcoming Events

  1. City Career Fair
    January 19, 2022 - November 4, 2022
  2. The Small Business Expo–Multiple Event Dates
    February 17, 2022 - December 1, 2022
  3. 2022 Academic Careers Workshop Apply Today!
    June 9, 2022 - June 12, 2022
  4. From Day One
    June 14, 2022
  5. From Day One
    June 22, 2022