Author: Jennifer Papproth, Corrections Program Director, Nebraska VR

National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) is right around the corner. Observed each October, NDEAM celebrates the contributions of workers with disabilities and educates the public about the value of a diverse workforce inclusive of their skills and talents. This year’s theme is “Inclusion Drives Innovation,” a slogan intended to spread awareness about how differing perspectives in problem-solving situations leads to better solutions. This October—and every October—I use NDEAM as an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of employment in the disability community.

Last year, I started working with a young lady who has a disability called Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita (AMC). This impairment limits her use of arms and, minimally, the use of her legs. She is exploring the world-of-work by doing an on-the-job-evaluation. The evaluation will be used to assess her skills and abilities. 

As we sit side-by-side during her "workday," I see her gaining confidence and becoming more empowered with the world around her. She now knows she will be able to contribute to her family and community by earning an independent living in the near future. Working with this woman was as much tactical as it was serendipitous. Her vocational rehabilitation counselor asked me to assess her abilities. She thought I would be a good match for this evaluation. You see, I too was born with AMC.

Leading by example, I am able to open the doors of the working world. I am able to show this young lady that she will be successful at work. Furthermore, I am able to demonstrate that we are not defined by our disabilities, but rather defined and recognized by our abilities.

My name is Jennifer Papproth, and I am a Program Director at Nebraska VR. Nebraska VR is the vocational rehabilitation agency in the state of Nebraska. Our focus is to support Nebraskans with disabilities to prepare for, find and keep employment, while helping businesses recruit, train and retain employees. As I reflect on another Disability Employment Awareness Month, I am called upon to challenge each of you to remember how inclusion drives innovation and fosters a society that is both welcoming and accepting, creating space for novel ideas and discoveries. Let’s celebrate what we all can accomplish when we work together.