A Western New York woman recently had the opportunity to share her employment experiences at a United Nations special session on the employment of people with disabilities.
Jennifer Yost, a Jamestown-area resident, was selected to travel to New York City to speak at the U.N. Headquarters after event organizers asked The Resource Center to participate in the special session.
The session was titled "Employment - The Key to Social Inclusion for People with Disabilities" and was intended to emphasize how critical employment is not only to the personal, economic and developmental well-being of people with disabilities, but also to governments and communities. The session was coordinated by The Rehab Group, an organization supporting people with disabilities in several European countries, which had participated and contributed to "The Resource Center Symposium at Chautauqua" in 2011.
Jennifer Yost stands outside the United Nations building with her parents Don and Joan, left, and Paul Cesana, executive director of The Resource Center.
Serving as the reference point for the session was Article 27 of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which addresses the rights of all individuals, including those with disabilities, to seek and obtain employment, and which articulates provisions that all nations ought to integrate into their constitutional, legal and sociopolitical constructs to ensure the equal employment of people with disabilities.
The session was chaired by Daniela Bas, the director of the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs' Division for Social Policy and Development. Ms. Bas has had to use a wheelchair since becoming paraplegic as a child as a result of a tumor on her spine, so she understands well the many challenges facing people with disabilities, including barriers to employment.
Ms. Yost, who has Down syndrome and who has been employed since 1996 with support from The Resource Center, spoke about her experiences in seeking, obtaining and then losing employment, and the devastating impact of being without a job for an extensive period. She discussed how important employment is in her life. Her employment provides Ms. Yost with opportunities to establish relationships with people whom she otherwise would not be able to meet, and her job brings fundamental purpose to her daily life routine. As importantly, the earnings from her employment allow Ms. Yost to plan for a number of personal and community activities, including taking family and friends to dinner, and to have personal belongings for simple things such as owning and using her own cellphone.
"I want to keep improving on my job and become more independent. I earn money and can make decisions on how I want to spend my money. I have a checking account and a credit card. I budget my money and pay my own bills, buy my own clothes and plan vacations," Ms. Yost told the audience at the U.N. "It makes me feel better to have money I earned. Through my employment I have met many people and made many friends. I hope some day all disabled people will be able to have a job and earn their own money. That would make them feel good."
Other key participants in the session were:
Andrei Abramov, the chief of the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) branch of the Office for ECOSOC Support and Coordination. (ECOSOC is the U.N.'s Economic and Social Council.) He referenced the key provisions of Article 27 of the U.N. Convention and the key aspects that pertain to governments, to their constitutional and legal provisions, and to social and political objectives that are critical to ensure access to employment by people with disabilities.
Angela Kerins, the chief executive officer of The Rehab Group. She spoke of the experience of the Republic of Ireland in developing a comprehensive and effective national structure that includes all key stakeholders. Such structure is essential to ensure successful access to employment for people with disabilities.
Dr. Heidi Alaskara, Saudi Arabia's head of disability employment. She highlighted a number of successful initiatives undertaken by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia aimed at supporting the educational and skills-acquisition process of children and youths with disabilities in anticipation of their work aspirations, as well as the practical support to employers, in order to create the necessary awareness of benefits associated with employing people with disabilities.
Jan Spooren, the secretary general of the European Platform for Rehabilitation. He emphasized the critical interplay and investment in not only supporting people with disabilities to seek and obtain employment, but, as importantly, in supporting and facilitating the commitment and expectations of employers to provide work to people with disabilities. Spooren elucidated the varying experiences of the different nations of the European Union in establishing among employers quota demands on employment of people with disabilities, and he documented the high benefits in providing employment against the high cost to governments and communities of not investing and supporting employment of people with disabilities.
During an open-panel discussion following the presenters, Paul Cesana, The Resource Center's executive director, remarked how Dr. Alaskara's theme of "harmonizing" the efforts and commitments of the many stakeholders from governmental entities, to educational and academic institutions, to private corporate entities, to nonprofit mission-driven organizations, and to people with disabilities and their families is most critical if societies are to make substantial progress in what remains an abysmal record in many countries, including developed nations such as the U.S., where 70 percent of people with disabilities are unemployed or underemployed.
The proceedings from the session on disability employment will be included in a declaration to the U.N. General Assembly on promoting productive capacity and decent work to eradicate poverty in the context of inclusive, sustainable and equitable economic growth at all levels.
The Resource Center has been supporting people with disabilities and their families in Western New York for more than 50 years. Through TRC's efforts, people with disabilities are able to be employed and to experience the feelings of self-worth that come from earning real wages for performing meaningful work.