When I founded Bender Consulting Services in 1995, I really did not realize the degree to which many people with disabilities lived dependently. I was surprised to find out how few young people with disabilities ever stayed overnight anywhere besides their homes.
When I first became involved in a not-for-profit organization in Pittsburgh that teaches high-school students with disabilities about technology and careers, the board told me they were having an overnight stay event at the Carnegie Science Center. For the first time, many high school students with disabilities would get a chance to sleep over night somewhere safe. This is when I first became aware of the lack of independence for young people with disabilities.
We all know that dependence from birth leads to dependence in adult life. We also know this leads to an isolated social life and unemployment. This vicious cycle must stop.
I teach young people with disabilities about the world of work and leadership. This includes independence. At the Bender Leadership Academy classes, I have had parents prevent students from participating in graduation photos because to them, this would mean people would know that the student had a disability. This decision was not made by the student themselves, it was made by the parent.
At Bender Consulting Services, several times, we have had a career opportunity for a young person with a disability that a parent blocked. Why? The opportunity required relocating to a different area. These offers were for a good salary with excellent benefits. Once again, this was not the wish of the young person.
So, what can we do? We can teach young people with disabilities to focus on being confidant, on not lowering the bar, on being independent. It really begins with us – people with disabilities. We need to believe in our own ability. We need to believe in ourselves. We need parents to encourage their children – not discourage them.
After graduating from high school or college, you will face the world of work and being dependent will never…and I mean never…work. This road leads to unemployment.
Encourage young people with disabilities to set high expectations for themselves, to participate in social activities and to believe in their own ability.
Young people with disabilities, believe in yourself and reach for the stars. You will succeed!