Student Rupert Johnson stood in front of the audience and spoke about his disability. As he began, it became clear to those attending “Discussing Identity (and disability)” what Johnson has internally wrestled with since his childhood.
He told the audience that while in middle school, his persistent stutter wasn’t a big deal, but once he entered high school, he said he began to worry more about how his peers viewed him.
“I didn’t participate enough,” Johnson said. “It took a toll on me in the classroom.”
He explained that he was scared people would perceive him as nervous or unintelligent.
But that didn’t stop Johnson (graduate-communication sciences and disorders) from becoming his class valedictorian. He then would have to give a speech in front of his entire class.
“I had to address my stutter head on,” he said.
He was able to receive money from the government to attend speech therapy. He said he was able to accept his stutter, and that was one of the best ways to cope.
But what does his stutter mean for his professional future?
In 1945, Congress declared the first week of October to be Nationally Employ the Physically Handicapped Week. The word “physically” was removed in 1962 to acknowledge all types of disabilities, and in 1988 Congress expanded the week to the entire month and changed it to its current name, National Disability Employment Awareness Month, Marianne Karwacki, coordinator of the Opportunity Network for Employment Program said.
Penn State’s Disability Advisory Group Office is holding “Diversablilty” events throughout the month in an effort to promote disability awareness.
Karwacki works directly with those with disabilities in the Penn State and Centre County community to help them find employment. The ONE program began in 1997 to facilitate local agencies that already help individuals with disabilities find employment go through one organization, as opposed to many going directly to Penn State.
People of all abilities can work somewhere on campus, Karwacki said.
She explained that she typically helps 20 to 30 people with disabilities get a job somewhere on campus each year, whether it be with Office of Physical Plant, hospitality or the dining halls.
Karwacki said that these are people who don’t want to live off government subsidies, but want to work “to hold their own.” The individuals she helps range in age from high school students to those in their fifties.
Lisa Wandel, director of Penn State Food Services, said that the program has worked very well and that she’s pleased with its outcome.
She explained that she likes what the program stands for, and that it provides her with employees that “really give their all” and “are willing to do what others aren’t.”
Wandel said currently there is no one from the ONE Program working at West Halls and that they are waiting for Karwacki to find someone.
Jade Perry is program coordinator for Diversity Programming. To recognize the month, on Oct. 22 she will be coordinating “The Job Search and DIVERSE-abilities: Issues for Students and Employers to Consider,” which will highlight issues between students with disabilities and future jobs.
“We push for employers to learn more about diverse students,” Perry said.
In past events, Perry said that employers come to learn how to make their companies more accessible for people with disabilities and when to provide reasonable accommodations. These changes can be as simple as putting their Equal Employment Opportunity statement higher up on the company website, Perry explained.
In terms of how his stutter may affect him professionally, Johnson said that he’s learned tools and techniques during his time in speech therapy he will use. He explained that he has had two clients for speech therapy while at Penn State, and that his stutter turned out to be a good thing since they could directly relate to him.
Emily Burns, disability specialist at Penn State, said the idea behind holding the “Discussing Identity (and disability)” event was to allow people to hear personal stories about how people with disabilities identify with their disability.
“People have more exposure, more of a deeper perspective” she said.
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