As a national leader in providing employment and training services to job-seekers with disabilities, the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation actively serves almost 17,000 consumers a year. Governor Scott Walker proclaimed October as Disability Employment Awareness Month in Wisconsin. During the month, I had the opportunity to meet with many businesses and their employees with disabilities to learn about the skills and talents that these dedicated workers bring to Wisconsin’s workforce.
The theme for this year’s October celebration was “My Disability is One Part of Who I Am.” As we celebrate 70 years of the first observance of Disability Employment Awareness Month and the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, we look to celebrate the many and varied contributions of Wisconsin workers with disabilities.
Traveling throughout Wisconsin, I have heard and witnessed many DVR success stories from both employers and workers with disabilities. I had the opportunity to meet with Kayleigh Rucktenweld, owner of the Have a Good Hair Day Salon and Spa in Milwaukee. She told me, “DVR partnered with me to achieve my dream of being a salon owner.” Kayleigh, who is an individual who is deaf, also had a good reminder for me, and for all of us. “I am an individual with dreams and ambitions – I am not defined by my deafness.”
Youth with disabilities are also experiencing success in Wisconsin Promise, a program that provides services for youth Social Security Supplemental Security Income recipients and their families, by helping them meet their school and work goals in order to better their income and financial stability, and reduce poverty. At a recent Take Your Legislator to Work event, a young man named Michael Bender shared his story. Michael’s dream is to have a career in sports. With the help of his Wisconsin Promise team, Michael was hired as a food service employee for the Madison Mallard’s, a Northwoods League baseball team. Michael worked at the park’s Stoddard’s Smokehouse during the team’s entire 2015 season.
A strong workforce is one that is inclusive of the skills and talents of all individuals, including individuals with disabilities. Governor Walker and I are committed to building a Wisconsin where every citizen can dream big and achieve an active life, full of opportunities, not only during Disability Employment Awareness Month, but throughout the year.
Reggie Newson is Secretary of Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.