The Americans with Disabilities Act works to open doors of opportunity for America's more than 50 million people with disabilities - including in the workplace. These are just a few of their stories. Submit yours.
John Kemp - Roslyn, New York
I have enjoyed a full life, one that has included great employment opportunities which have allowed me to collaborate with statesmen and corporate executives in the United States and globally to positively improve the lives of us with disabilities. I have had the good fortune to be the CEO of numerous non-profit organizations, be a partner at a prominent DC law firm, serve our government, and steer companies and public policy from seats on Boards of Directors. Being acknowledged for this work on behalf of people with disabilities, when awarded the 2014 Dole Leadership Prize at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics, was a humbling, pivotal point in my career. While ADA25 is a celebratory time for all that has been accomplished, I also see it as a new beginning. A time to look at what still must be done to increase the employment of people with disabilities and to advance qualified individuals so they too are represented at all levels, including as CEOs and high-level professionals. I wish to see every individual with a disability who wants to work have the chance to be gainfully and meaningfully employed.
Elizabeth Kumar - Arlington, Virginia
I joined the workforce, or rather, re-joined the workforce in 2010, after building up the physical and mental fortitude to go back to work following my paralysis from my Lupus. Lupus had taken a severe toll on me by that point, ravaging my spinal cord and central nervous system, robbing me of feeling below the chest. Yet I was able to not only persevere, but in fact thrive, thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Now that sounds a bit hyperbolic, however the provisions in that piece of legislation were and remain so poignant and impactful, that I don't feel strange in saying it brought my life back from the crisis I had struggled with. I knew, once I was ready, that the infrastructure, accommodations, and positive atmosphere would exist at almost any school in our nation thanks to the ADA. I knew I would be able to go in to any educational facility, unencumbered by the number of stairs it might have had. Because I had the knowledge that ramps, elevators, special seating and technology had been provided by educators and policymakers when I was only a child. In many ways, the ADA gave me back my life.
Benjamin Lachman - Chicago, Illinois
The Americans with Disabilities Act is committed to providing me with access to effective communications strategies of my choosing in the workplace. As a profoundly deaf individual with no auditory feedback, those effective choices for me are a Cued Language Transliterator and real time captioning. In addition to the rest of my communications toolbox, which includes speech-reading and verbal English communications, I'm able to have full and unambiguous visual access to all communications opportunities at work. There's never been a better time to be deaf than today because of all of these accessibility opportunities and the protections they are afforded.
Is an absolute privilege to be able to enter a room chock-full of people from all backgrounds and have full confidence in myself as someone who has both something to say and a way to hear what others have to say, regardless of auditory feedback. As a Business and Community Engagement Coordinator for JJsList.com, effective communications are an essential deliverable. My defining characteristics in regards to sensory inputs have nothing to do with what I can accomplish. That's the fundamental goal for the Americans with Disabilities Act, for which I will always be grateful.
Karen Craft - Fresno, California
My name is Karen Craft, Psy.D., and I work as a counselor at Naval Air Station, Lemoore, California. With the help of my service dog, Geneva, I assist active duty military personnel and their dependents cope with various mental health issues and the everyday challenges that come with the military lifestyle and culture. I feel that by supporting those who defend my freedom, I am making a positive contribution to the freedoms that we all enjoy and sometimes take for granted. One of those freedoms includes the right of all people to be productive, contributing members of society - the hallmark of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Robert Bartlett - Gainesville, Virginia
My employment at CACI veteran support team means I get to directly help those just like myself, a disabled veteran of the United States Army. Sometimes in life we all my need some guidance to account for those who may be left out because of certain issues. It's up to each individual to really change their heart and mind, and accept to help those around them who are willing to work harder than those without disabilities. The ADA helps with straight discrimination of someone like me, who may be discriminated against because of facial scaring or a head injury. This discrimination was one of my concerns as I was leaving the military as a severely disabled veteran. The acts of kindness of average citizens to help me retrain into new career fields and start over in life gave me the confidence in myself to move on and realize it was up to me on whether I was going to be successful or not. The ADA protects me from those who think I can't perform, and hold my disabilities against me instead of one who has overcome great odds. Maybe they are the ones with a disability, not me!
Sarah Cecelia Ann Mueller - Nashville, Tennessee
Originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I moved to Nashville last summer to pursue the position of Independent Living Specialist and Marketing Coordinator for The Center for Independent Living of Middle Tennessee. Prior to accepting this position, I spent more than a half a decade working as a customer service representative for an insurance agency. I have since worked as an intern in an urban halfway house and a major metropolitan hospital. After earning a Master's degree in Thanatology, I went on to become professionally certified and trained. I currently serve on the board for United Spinal Tennessee, and am an active participant in Achilles Nashville. The ADA helped pave the way for all of these opportunities.
Gretl Kruse - Rochester, Minnesota
Last year, I helped found an employee resource group at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., to improve the experience of our patients and employees with disabilities. The group is formed of Mayo employees with disabilities and colleague allies who, together, work to connect employees and patients with needed resources. Together, we advocate for positive change.
One of our first projects was to hold open forums to identify roadblocks faced by those with disabilities, be they patients or employees. We categorized and prioritized issues and are working in partnership with Mayo leadership on solutions to enhance the experience of patients and employees.
We regularly consult with Mayo Clinic care teams to help them more clearly understand and respond to the needs of those with disabilities. For example, Mayo Clinic's Division of Cardiology is developing an Active Office Lab that helps patients learn ways to improve their health and physical activity while at work. Our disability employee resource group is working with the cardiology team to identify strategies for professionals who use wheelchairs or who have less visible issues that can affect their health and limit their ability to be active.
Twenty-five years ago, the Americans with Disabilities Act set in motion an environment that allows those with disabilities to have a voice. I am proud to use that voice and to work with my Mayo colleagues to widen the path for others.
David Schwartzkopf - Rochester, Minnesota
I am 1960 graduate of Pulaski (WI) High School, where I was a member of the National Honor Society. I went on to earn a Bachelor of Science Degree from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in Mathematics and Physics in 1965. In 1966, I attended Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri as part of an experimental program in computer programming for people with visual disabilities. My employment journey started the next year, when IBM hired me as a systems development computer programmer. I retired from IBM in 1996, after holding such roles as team leader, manager and assistant to corporate director. Throughout my 30-year-career, I also helped advocate for greater employment opportunities for other people with disabilities. From 1989-1991, I served as assistant commissioner of the Minnesota Division of Rehabilitation Services. After IBM I also had a five-year tenure as executive director of the Southeastern Minnesota Center for Independent Living. Through all these experiences, I witnessed firsthand the role the ADA has played in increasing opportunities for people with disabilities, and I look forward to continued progress in the next 25 years.
Quemuel Arroyo - New York, New York
My name is Quemuel Arroyo and I am the first Policy Analyst for Accessibility and ADA Coordinator for the New York City Department of Transportation. At DOT, we are committed to ensuring that all New Yorkers, including New Yorkers with disabilities and aging New Yorkers are able to access and enjoy their neighborhoods to their full potential. From community meetings, to planning sessions, to design and implementation, we make sure to include the needs of all New Yorkers. I am fortunate enough to be responsible for ensuring that we stay true to this mission. As a person with a disability, I understand the importance of building inclusive and accessible environments. I cannot think of a better job than serving our New Yorkers with disabilities and making NYC the most accessible city in the world. I joined DOT during summer of 2014.
Raphael Dirden - Frederick, Maryland
I am truly grateful for the ADA, for it has given to me hope and a future to continue living life without excuse. My opportunity to work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has provided me with all the training and accessible equipment needed for me to do my job well. It has allowed me to continue living the dream of taking care of my family and growing in my personal life. There are many who cannot relate to the challenges that come with having a disability. Who will hire me? Will I be able to continue in a career path? How will I be able to do my job with the physical challenges I have? Insecure thoughts may enter our minds but opportunity gives us all hope to continue living and striving to be more and do more with our lives.
Pamela Tritz-Okia - St. Cloud, Minnesota
I was diagnosed in 2009 with Parkinson's disease (PD). I had 2 young boys living away from family. I went through a complete life "shake up". I quit my job, packed up our belongings, and headed back to my home state. After almost a year of searching for the "perfect job", I found it and the perfect organization. The ADA gave me the fortitude to achieve all that I had to do to continue living a happy fulfilling life at home and at work. I knew I could identify a position without concerns of discrimination if my PD was recognized. I knew the ADA would protect me in my job search to enable me to find a good position that I could be successful in and passionate about.
Denyse Gordon - Ashburn, Virginia
When I left Active Duty I knew there was something different about me. I had returned home from my deployment physically whole, but emotionally and psychologically I knew that the Denyse that deployed was not who returned home. I was afraid to get help - believing the stigma and negative connotations attached to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. But, I knew that if I didn't address what was now going to be a part of my life, then how else would I be successful? The ADA is not only necessary, but it erases the stigma and fear that many of us living with invisible disabilities have to deal with. It helps us to be "ok" each day, each minute, each hour - even when we have bad days. I live with PTSD. My employment with CACI has allowed me to never be ashamed of my disability. In fact, because of the support offered both directly and indirectly by my colleagues and the company as a whole, I can speak freely, without reservation about my disability to fellow service members who also live with PTSD and other disabilities. I succeed because I took the first step in acknowledging my PTSD. I further succeed because the ADA protects people like me - and for that I'm grateful!
Christina Eisenberg - Bronx, New York
I have the great privilege of working for the Employer Technical Assistance Center managed by The Viscardi Center. In my current role as the Employer Service Specialist, I provide technical assistance to employers who seek to recruit, hire and retain qualified persons with disabilities. I also handle all inquiries that come through AskEARN.org and the Workforce Recruitment Program. In addition, I review all job postings on WRP.jobs for approval as well as assist employers in sourcing candidates and finding resources to create an inclusive work environment.
As a person with a disability myself I understand firsthand the importance in having educated employers who are willing to hire people with disabilities. The ADA has helped to provide equal opportunities for people with disabilities to live productive, self-sufficient lives integrated in society. It has allowed me to contribute to society through full-time employment, which opened doors to independent living. I believe that my life has come full circle; I am a graduate of The Henry Viscardi School and can now say that I have returned to where my career foundation began.
John Boemio - Ossining, New York
John works at Good Reasons, a dog treat company committed to providing integrated employment opportunities for people with autism and other disabilities. His job entails everything from preparing the factory kitchen area to weighing and mix ingredients to baking and packing the dog treats. Most often he is on the weighing, closing and heat sealing end of the production line. When not helping actually make treats, he helps promote them at various local events and fundraisers and in stores by coordinating displays and giving out samples and coupons. He also accompanies the Good Reasons' sales team when delivering orders and to meet with potential new sellers. When asked what he likes about his job, John said everything, especially the baking, his co-workers, and making money to save for travel, clothes, movies and Yankee games.
David Egan - Vienna, Virginia
When I was growing up, I used to ask my mom, "When will this Down syndrome thing go away?" She told me that it would be with me for the rest of my life, but that it does not stop me from achieving my dreams. I have always dreamed big. One of my dreams was to have a job and earn a paycheck like any other American. Thanks to the tireless work and service of others that helped champion the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), I, with the help of others, have made that dream a reality. Having a job has made me feel valued and included. Still, there is more to do. There are others just like me with disabilities that have not had the same opportunities, and more focus is needed to increase opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to work in a competitive work environment, earning competitive salaries with full benefits. I hope that we, the disability community, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, will open even more opportunities for inclusion for people with disabilities.
Jean Searle - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
I spent many years in an institution. All I ever wanted was to live a happy and independent life. An advocate helped me to leave the institution. I spent many years in sheltered workshops, though. I was unhappy and wanted a real job. Finally, a job coach helped me to find employment. I was happy in making my own decisions and earning a living wage in several different jobs. Last year, I celebrated my 20th work anniversary. I was recently promoted. I feel independent and empowered. With supports and accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act, all people with disabilities can feel the same way that I do. People with disabilities want to work and earn a living wage. We want what everyone else wants, to be happy, to make decisions, and to live an inclusive and productive life.
Cheryl Jackson - Pound Ridge, New York
Cheryl is an employee of Good Reasons, a dog treat company committed to providing integrated employment opportunities for people with autism and other disabilities. She is involved in all aspects of producing the company's products, but most often helps with opening and filling bags and applying their expiration labels. She also assists with sales and promotion by visiting stores that sell the company's products and staffing tables at community fairs and events. What she likes most about her job is baking the treats and making money so she can save for trips to Lake George and buy magazines and other things for herself.
Stephanie Joseph - Germantown, Maryland
I live with bipolar disorder. Before the ADA, I was fired numerous times for excessive absenteeism and poor job performance. I went on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) in 1997 when it became apparent that my disability was debilitating. Because of the ADA, I have been successfully employed at NAMI Montgomery County since August 2013. I receive supported employment services, including job coaching, which helps me with organizational, time management and multi-tasking skills. Living with a mental health condition does not mean that I cannot work. In fact, working has played an enormous role in my recovery. It gives me a purpose, keeps me organized, increases my self-esteem and provides me with a sense of accomplishment. I feel so fortunate to have supported employment services. For years, I thought I wouldn’t be able to work, and now I’m in the most rewarding job I’ve ever had. I am a success story, benefitting greatly from the ADA.
Kelly Boyd - Mercerville, New Jersey
I began working in 1999 as a freelance reporter for The Trenton Times and providing administrative support for the Hamilton YMCA. I was attending college full-time then. Today, I am the AmeriCorps Program Officer for the New Jersey Commission on National and Community Service. As such, I oversee various AmeriCorps programs across the State. No matter what program they are part of, AmeriCorps members make a profound impact within the communities where they serve. The Commission and I encourage program managers to recruit people with disabilities, and we provide disability inclusion training to them each year. We also assist program managers with providing necessary accommodations to any AmeriCorps members with disabilities. As someone who uses a wheelchair due to rheumatoid arthritis, I know firsthand that many employers are not always willing to hire people with disabilities. This is why I admire the Commission's commitment to inclusion and the ADA - it has played an important role in my own life and career.
Maryann Stuck - Pound Ridge, New York
Maryann works at Good Reasons, a dog treat company committed to providing integrated employment opportunities for people with autism and other disabilities. Her job entails everything involved in production, but most often she assists in the packing area, filling the treat bags as they are prepared for shipping to the various stores that sell Good Reasons' products. She also helps staff tables at various local events to help promote the company. What she likes most about her job is cutting the dough and baking the treats. She also really likes her shift leader.
Savannah Logsdon-Breakstone - Franklin, Pennsylvania
I do social media contracting, which is a fancy way of saying that people have me run their Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, Tumblr, and so on. It's really great to be able to do this work because I deal with chronic pain and fatigue on top of my anxiety and being autistic, so there are days when getting out of bed is very, very hard. I wouldn't be able to do a job where I had to be in the office at a specific time every day for very long. I can do about a week before my body or mind leaves me stuck in bed or on the floor. But since I was able to find a telecommuting job that can be done from anywhere, I'm able to work almost every day. Because of this flexible work arrangement, I'm a lot more likely to be able to handle when I do actually have to be somewhere in person. Since I can't handle my own money effectively, I also get help from someone I trust to manage the financial end of my work - without which, I wouldn't be able to keep working.
Rose Pleskow - Reston, Virginia
My name is Rose Pleskow. I work at Perfect Sense Digital in Reston, Virginia. I love my job and have a wonderful manager and co-workers. I have many responsibilities, including publishing content, writing a weekly blog post and doing quality assurance testing on a variety of websites.
In 2011, I started as an intern and was hired part-time in March 2012. At first, it was not easy. I did not know the difference between co-workers and friends, how the office worked, nor what to do when I was stuck on a project. With help from a job coach and my co-workers, I learned these and other valuable skills. Now, I feel happy and confident at work. My manager says I do a good job, have grown a lot and am valuable to the company.
The Americans with Disabilities Act has been so important for people with disabilities who are in the workforce. It ensures we will not be discriminated against for our disabilities, as well as provides valuable support to make sure we succeed. As we celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the ADA, I hope every person with a disability gets treated equally and can find a job they love.
Yvette Gilchrist - Pound Ridge, New York
Yvette is an employee at Good Reasons, a dog treat company committed to providing integrated employment opportunities for people with autism and other disabilities. She helps out with all aspects of production, but most often can be found opening and filling the treat bags and applying expiration labels. She also sometimes visits local stores that carry Good Reasons products to give out coupons and represents the company at community fairs and other events. Her favorite part of the job is actually making the treats by cutting the dough and putting them on the tray to get ready for baking.