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Disability awareness on ADAy

BY KATIE THISDELL

THE FREE LANCE-STAR

People with disabilities have come a long way in the past 22 years, but there’s still more to be done.

That was a message Saturday at an anniversary celebration of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990.

Hosted by the disAbility Resource Center, the event offered visitors a chance to learn more about the many organizations and resources in the area. Food and children’s games were also part of the event at Hurkamp Park.

The act is known for outlawing job discrimination and requiring accessible buildings.

But it’s still harder for people with disabilities to be employed than nondisabled counterparts, said Pattie Hodge, a job placement counselor at the Division of Rehabilitative Services.

By 2020, half of adults in the U.S. will have one chronic condition, she said, citing statistics from Georgetown University.

“That’s not so great news, but that’s what we’re looking at. That’s the reality of the situation,” said Hodge, one of the speakers at the third annual event.

Everyone needs to be educated to ensure that the country moves forward, she said, particularly employers.

“People with disabilities still define themselves by their disability, and that’s a problem,” Hodge said. “You need to define yourself by your abilities. We need to let employers know that a disability is not the end of the world.”

October has been designated as National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

The state’s Employment First Initiative is a philosophy that people can and should work.

Kim Lett, deputy director of the disAbility Resource Center in Fredericksburg, said it’s a good time for Virginia, but that it’s important to recognize how much times have changed.

Hodge teaches a job readiness class that includes skills on job seeking, application writing, résumé writing, interviewing and job retention.

One thing that’s changed over the past 10 years or so has been how people with disabilities get jobs. Third-party advocates used to have a bigger role, but now employers want to talk to the person themselves.

And job-seekers should focus on what they can do—such as be independent and flexible at the workplace.

“When you’re saying what you can’t do rather than what you can do, you shoot yourself in the foot,” Hodge said.

She manned one of the more than a dozen booths at the park.

Others included the Rappahannock Area Agency on Aging, Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired, and support groups for brain injuries, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Katie Thisdell: 540/735-1975

kthisdell@freelancestar.com

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