Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A change of the heart is what AtWork! really is all about

It’s not really about getting people good jobs. It’s not really about creative, innovative, customized employment solutions. It’s not even about the money that people with disabilities earn or the hours of support they receive.

Not when we talk about the heart and the soul of it. How many times have you noticed someone simply because of their difference? Perhaps you have been the recipient of “the look quickly away, now children don’t stare” because in some way you deviate from the accepted.

Perhaps you are very tall, or very short; maybe you walk funny, or you use a machine to communicate; maybe you are very small, or very big. And guess what folks, the mathematics here are simple: the greater degree of deviance from the perceived ideal, the greater the experience of stigmatization.

And so you live in a world that doesn’t quite fit because it is made to fit the people in the middle of the bell curve. Think about where this might apply to you in your life…there are places, different for each of you, where you would feel uncomfortable and out of place.

Not everyone thinks about what the world might be like should those who are different arrive at their party, their house, their town, their workplace. So rather than finding a place that welcomes you with open arms with tools you can use, and chairs that fit, and coffee pots that you can reach and toilets you can flush and instructions you can understand…even if you don’t read - a place that celebrates the glorious human gifts that you bring.

You find yourself instead, in a world with walls all around you. Walls built with the bricks of segregation, low expectations, avoidance, fear, and discrimination. Deep inside these walls the heart and soul of it is all about isolation and loneliness and defeat.

A change of the heart is what AtWork! really is all about right at the heart and soul of it all. Yes, the tangible, touchable part of it is about good jobs. Discovering your talents and finding the employer who truly needs your contributions breaks down those bricks and changes the heart inside.

Work creates the opportunity for two things we all need, things of the heart that are simply part of the human condition. One is the need to form meaningful, reciprocal connections to our fellow man. And the other is the need to give something of ourselves back to the world in which we live, something that is welcomed and appreciated and recognized for its worthiness.

The heart and soul of AtWork! is all about justice, belonging and potential. Our vision is that by changing the face of employment we change hearts and lives and impact our community, our society, and our nation.

In our vision there is no looking away or telling children not to stare, because we all look each other in the eye with pride of contribution and acceptance. Workplaces and communities that embrace the contributions of people with disabilities develop rich cultures of respect, teamwork, and responsibility. There is no better time than the present for these virtues. Some may say they are essential to the recovery of our economy and the preservation of our way of life. AtWork! and those of you who have joined the movement think about how the world will fit for all people. Because everyone, including people with disabilities, has the right to show up in all those places and anywhere and everywhere their hopes and dreams may take them.

And they will show up. Together we’re making sure they have the opportunity to show up and much more every day.

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posted by AtWork! at


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