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National Disability Employment Awareness Month

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), a time when we recognize the contributions of workers with disabilities and celebrate a workforce that continues to become more inclusive. So now is the perfect moment to start thinking about possibilities for employment.

As people with disabilities, it is never too early to start acquiring skills, gaining experience and building our resumes. This is a point of emphasis throughout the DREAM BIG program. In a previous issue, we discussed summer volunteer opportunities and how they can open doors to educational and professional success. The same can be said for part-time employment during high school.

Early job experiences instill responsible time management, a strong work ethic, the accountability that comes with being part of a team and the ability to collaborate with others to achieve a common goal. Seeking part-time employment also affords an invaluable opportunity to practice strong self-advocacy by requesting any accommodations you might need. Not to mention, having the extra cash in your pocket always comes in handy.

In case you’re uncertain about taking on a part-time job, here are a few stories from SDI staff describing their own work experiences in high school. While the individual job duties vary, the long-term benefits are clear and consistent.

Katie Fields is SDI’s College Outreach Coordinator. As a high school student, she worked seasonally at the mall for Cherry Hill Photo, taking pictures of kids and their families as they posed with Santa and the Easter Bunny. Katie was more than a photographer, however, often being asked to print packages of photos, manage the line of customers and ring them up as cashier. Due to staffing shortages, Katie frequently juggled all of these responsibilities.

In one extreme instance when only Katie and Santa reported for duty, she frantically hustled from one task to the next, positioning families, taking photos, selling merchandise and working the register for more than six hours without a break. She received a small bonus for her efforts, but the work experience was priceless.

“From my high school job, I learned about perseverance, the importance of great customer service, flexibility, schooling on the job and managing money,” Katie reflects.

Josh Sisson is currently a freelance writer working for SDI, but his first job was as a classroom assistant at the Children’s Center for the Visually Impaired (CCVI) in Kansas City. His primary responsibility included preparing Braille materials for students, but he also helped out during recess and lunch time. Strictly a summer position, the job didn’t interfere with Josh’s academics or extracurricular activities. But it still taught him a lot about adhering to a schedule and making the most of his time.

“We lived in a small town about an hour outside of Kansas City, and I commuted to work each day with my parents,” Josh explains. “They had to be at work no later than 7 a.m., which meant I always arrived for my part-time job a couple of hours early and ended up staying a couple hours late. I became adept at finding tasks I could complete during this extra time, a habit that impressed my supervisor then and continues to serve me well.”

These days, Lori Becker is SDI’s Chief Operating Officer and Director of Communications and Development, but her very first job was as a bagger at a grocery store. On the surface, sacking groceries might sound tedious or menial, but Lori found ways to make it fun and impactful.

“I actually loved it because it was simple enough to grasp and become successful at. I even won a competition for best bagger,” Lori remembers. “It allowed me to find success, learn about customer service, time-utilization, organization and the economy of motion.”

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