I sit down to write this as the New Year begins. January is always a month of reflection for me, and this year is no different. Thinking back on 2009, working with state leaders through a still struggling economy, continued rising unemployment, renewed terrorist threats, and now the devastation in Haiti. It is a lot to take in. Yet, I am approaching 2010 optimistic about the future and our ability – as individuals and as organizations - to make some headway into what seems to be the intractable problem of unemployment and underemployment of people with disabilities. And I believe, as always, our solutions lie within us - as persevering people - to continue to plow through but perhaps with a more single minded focus, and a notion that we have to make the preparation for work, and the promise of jobs a mantra.
Preparation and promise. For me, this means continuing to talk about the importance of preparing all of our young people and adults, especially those with disabilities, for a world of work and inclusion in our nation’s economic prosperity. Good or great things just don’t always happen by luck or circumstance in our lives – they happen because many of us (and our parents, friends and family – maybe even our public policy makers) understand the importance of preparation. Promise is about opportunity and the promise of potential new jobs and new opportunities that await those who are prepared. This may be my optimism or perhaps my advancing age, but economies like play sets always have swings. There will be jobs in the future, but they just might not be the jobs in place today, and they just won’t appear without any concerted, focused effort to create them. As such, it is vitally important that we internalize the importance of making our systems change efforts relevant. That is, if there is going to be any progress, our efforts must be relevant to employers so that job training is based on jobs that employers foresee needing to fill. If there is going to be any progress, our efforts must be relevant to governors and public officials who will be focusing on creating jobs and supporting business development. And, if there is going to be any progress, our efforts must be relevant to every person with a disability who would like to leave dependency on government programs behind and get a job.
Director, NTAR Leadership Center