In life and in the workplace, success does not always come easily. If you ask any accomplished adult how they got where they are today, he or she will likely credit hard work, tenacity and even luck. But most will also acknowledge other people — individuals who encouraged and inspired them to set and achieve their goals, such as relatives, teachers, coaches or colleagues.
While messages of high expectations are important for all young people, they are especially crucial for youth with disabilities, who may not always believe that they can work and succeed. In order to dream big and effectively prepare to enter the workforce, youth with disabilities — like all youth — must have support and the opportunity to learn about their individual potential through practical experience and trusted relationships with adults.
As a person who was born blind, I understand this firsthand. Fortunately, I had numerous people encouraging me throughout my career journey. My parents, first and foremost, believed in my capabilities, and they never let me forget it. From day one, they instilled in me an expectation of employment and independence. And today, thanks to them and to many other influencers along the way, I’m the better for it.
The importance of expectation is captured beautifully in a new public service announcement produced by the Campaign for Disability Employment, which is funded by the Office of Disability Employment Policy. In this PSA, titled “Because,” we meet some remarkable people. Among them is 14-year-old Kayla Woolridge, who has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair. She is also a competitive swimmer, in part because her first coach told her, “You can do this.” Likewise, high school student Jonathan Miranda, who has Asperger’s syndrome, discovered that he can work as an artist “because my teacher helped me see the choices.” And 6-year-old N’Dea Banks-Mackey, who is visually impaired, is growing up with high expectations “because my parents told me I have to be responsible.”
That’s merely a taste of the great talent featured in “Because,” a sequel to our award-winning “I Can” PSA, which has aired thousands of times on TV and radio stations nationwide since its release in 2010. “Because” is being distributed to television stations as we speak, so keep an eye out for it on the airwaves in coming months. In the meantime, we encourage you to help us take the “Because” message viral by sharing it online.
I hope you enjoy “Because” as much as I do. Its message strikes a chord, since most of us owe our success in life to someone who believed in us along the way. I know I certainly do. But don’t let that power stop with you. Because of your influence, another young person can reach their potential, as well.
Kathy Martinez is the assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy.