My Favorite Time of Year: National Disability Employment Awareness Month

10/02/2013

Two men, one older and one younger, work together at a desk.

As my favorite month of the year kicks off, I think of all of the exciting updates I will be providing about AFB CareerConnect—new content and stories. I don't just love October because of Halloween, and getting to dress up (though I have been known to enjoy the whole costume tradition and Halloween parties—I make a mean pirate). No, the real reason I love October is because it's National Disability Employment Awareness Month. It focuses on my favorite topics: employment and persons with disabilities. I speak year-round on this topic, but during this month you all get it from many different sources. It's an exciting time for me (and hopefully you), to see what new initiatives and resources will launch during the month.

As I recently wrote elsewhere, I am currently at the United States Business Leadership Conference in Los Angeles. That is quite fitting; I am surrounded by the top people, organizations, businesses, and corporations working to involve persons with disabilities in the employment process. All the corporations here are truly working to include us. I say "us" because, as you know, I am a person with a disability. I am visually impaired. I also went through school with a learning disability (and possibly a little hyper activity, just to mix things up). Every October, I like to think back to the road I have traveled to get here, and I think you should think back to the road you traveled that got you to this point in your life and or career.

But wait— there's more! Not only is October National Disability Employment Awareness Month and Halloween, it also holds another, lesser-known holiday (though I plan to make it more well-known: National Disability Mentoring Day, which is October 16. Mentors have made a large impact in my life. Have you taken the time to think about the persons who impacted your path, and thanked them for providing that influence on your life? I guarantee many of them will not even realize it, but it is important make sure you let them know. Also: be a mentor! It's important to pay it forward, and groom future success stories. Some of my mentors are blind or visually impaired, and some are not. Any one of you could be a mentor to a youth or person with a disability specific to their future and employment. I urge you to consider this.

I feel so lucky to have so many great mentors, including Carl Augusto, CEO of the American Foundation for the Blind. I have a few mentors who are CEOs of large non-profits and Executive Directors of state agencies related to vocational rehabilitation. My goal is to be a CEO or executive director. I live what I preach, I have an action plan with goals and objectives that I revise and continue to work toward completing objectives. At each organization that I have worked at, I have learned from the leadership and learned new skills. I continue to research ways to improve myself. I am pretty self-aware about my strengths and weaknesses. Truthfully, my mentors have pushed me to become more self-aware and learn new valuable skills.

While at the USBLN Conference, I will be working to find ways that persons and youth who are blind or visually impaired can participate in these new initiatives or partnerships. I will make an effort to assure our place at the table. Persons who are blind or visually impaired are a valuable and, frankly, under-utilized part of the workforce. I know the conference will address National Disability Mentoring Day, and we all need to make an effort to participate. AFB's AFB CareerConnect program allows successful persons who are blind or visually impaired to give back. The mentors are highlighted in Our Stories, a section devoted to profiling people with vision loss who are successful in their careers. Mentors are contacted for advice and wisdom on how they navigated the path into their career field. Make sure you take the time to give back to the next generation of success stories.

I'd like to say a big thank you to Carl Augusto and all of my other mentors. You all have impacted my life and helped me find the path toward a successful and fulfilling career.

Stay tuned all month long for more great content from AFB CareerConnect, and have happy National Disability Employment Awareness Month!

Mentor photo courtesy of Shutterstock.