Action-packed 2020 Abilities Virtual Experience enjoyed from the comfort and safety of home

For decades, the very latest in assistive technology, cutting-edge mobility solutions, adaptive recreation and innovative support services have been on full display at the Abilities Expo, an annual series of trade shows taking place in eight different cities across North America.

Although the global pandemic has forced the postponement of many shows scheduled for 2020, including the expo originally slated for June in Chicago, the Abilities Expo team still found a way to deliver an action-packed weekend of knowledge and discovery, an event people could participate in from the comfort and safety of their own homes.

The Abilities Virtual Experience, held June 19-21, allowed expo attendees to enjoy adaptive online activities, informational workshops, technology showcases and product demonstrations, all via live chat and videoconferencing.

The Starkloff Disability Institute hosted a pair of webinars on day one of the expo, spreading our message of ambition and empowerment to job seekers and students with disabilities.

Fifty-seven attendees gathered for “Five Things People with Disabilities Should Know about Work,” a webinar led by SDI Adult Career Services Coordinator Jason Hartsfield. The presentation focused on when it makes sense to disclose a disability to a prospective employer, the questions employers can and cannot ask of applicants with disabilities, and the definition of ‘reasonable’ as it pertains to requesting accommodations.

According to Jason, there can be a delicate balance between an individual’s sense of disability pride and their right to privacy.

“The most difficult questions have to do with invisible or semi-visible disabilities,” Jason explains. “While we want people to be proud of their disability identities, we also know that disability is private medical information. Employers are only entitled to know what they absolutely need to know in order to provide accommodation.”

Jason emphasizes that candidates must educate themselves on the nuances of self-advocacy in the workplace, a theme he hopes resonated with the audience.

“I think the most important takeaway is that job seekers with disabilities need to have a firm understanding of the ADA,” Jason states. “Employers have rights, too, and your first accommodation isn’t automatically the one you’re going to get. You have to treat an accommodation request like a negotiation.”

Youth Programs Manager Blair Dammerman led SDI’s second webinar at the expo, “Self-Advocacy and Student Success: Crafting a Smoother Journey to College.” She was also joined by Katie Fields and Danielle Giuffrida, SDI’s College Outreach and DREAM BIG Camp coordinators, respectively.

Katie says they all worked hard to offer an informative and practical discussion.

“Our presentation focused on self-advocacy and why it is integral to the transition process,” Katie describes. “We discussed the main differences between high school and college, and shared the ways in which self-advocacy is necessary for student success in college, like when a student must request accommodations or when they need to utilize office hours of a professor when they don’t grasp the material being taught.”

Blair says every day presents another opportunity to apply these tools.

“Self-advocacy is imperative throughout all aspects and all points of one’s life,” Blair remarks. “Practicing it and enhancing your skills early on will help you become more successful throughout the transition to postsecondary education and also in your future careers.”

Toward the end of the webinar, an audience member asked what could be done to help students who may be ashamed or in denial of their disabilities. Danielle drew upon her personal journey to address the question.

“I grew up knowing I was disabled, and I really struggled to become comfortable with it until later in life,” Danielle recalls. “What helped me was being around the disabled community, just experiencing the collaboration and people being prideful of their disability. Being around that has made me feel so good. Now I don’t have a problem saying I’m a disabled woman and these are my concerns, whereas before I felt like more of a burden.”

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