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A few short weeks ago around one hundred disability advocates gathered at the Kendall Square Cinema. We were invited by the leaders of the Doug Flutie Junior Foundation for Autism to watch Extraordinary People, a fantastic documentary about the innovative employment services provided by Extraordinary Ventures in Chapel Hill North Carolina.
For thirty minutes we marveled at the stories of:
- Amanda, who not only secured her first job at EV Laundry but was promoted to a supervisory role
- Michael, who is employed in EV’s Business Services and has a competitive job at a local bakery
- Natalie, whose detailed support needs have not stopped her from being a key player in EV’s Office Solutions business
After the film Flutie Executive Director Nick Savarese moderated a panel discussion that included Greg and Lori Ireland, the founders of Extraordinary Ventures ; Kristine Biagiotti-Bridges, the President of the Disability Employee Resource Group at Dell EMC ; Cariann Hersh, the Chief Operating Officer at 3L Place ; and myself.
As often happens when a discussion focuses on a significant challenge – such as the fact that although state and philanthropic partners invest billions every year disability employment rates haven’t significantly changed in 30 years – the conversation and questions from the audience were lively.
Cariann talked about how 3L place has invested heavily in person centered services that are effectively connecting young people with employment in the Davis Square area of Somerville, Massachusetts. Lori and I talked about how organizations with very different relationships to federal funding (EV is fully funded by business revenues and philanthropy, while most of the organizations I work with rely heavily on federal Medicaid funding) can succeed in the vital work of connecting people with disabilities to employment. Fortunately, Kristine was there to explain the vital role that employers like Dell/EMC play in employing highly capable people with autism and different disabilities.
Through entrepreneurial businesses like those developed by EV, diversity hiring efforts by Dell EMC, and credential based career development pathways in growing industries like CNA and Culinary Arts, we are going to create a fully inclusive economy and honor the millions of self-advocates who head out every day to search for work.
It is so encouraging that on a cool night in November we had such a warm conversation about disability employment. Now it’s time to get to work!
-Jeff Gentry, Principal, 70/30 Partners