Job Coach and Employment Specialist Debra Tan Wins 2020 Governor’s Employer Award for Direct Support Professional
Northwest Center could not be prouder to announce that Job Coach and Employment Specialist Debra Tan is the winner of the 2020 Governor’s Employer Award for Direct Support Professional from the Governor’s Committee on Disability Issues and Employment!
This award recognizes an individual who has made meaningful inclusive employment opportunities a reality for individuals with disabilities. Deb could not be more deserving of this honor. In fact, it was Deb’s team members in Northwest Center Employment Services who nominated her for this award with impassioned endorsements of her work.
“It takes a special person to devote 25 years to social services, while keeping her fire and passion like it’s day one,” said one coworker. “Deb has devoted her 25-year career to employment services, 18 of which she has spent making Northwest Center Employment Services a better place to work. Deb maintains that passion and grit every day.”
Onna captured hearts in 2015 during Northwest Center’s 50th anniversary. With her little pink coat and impish smile, the “Dancing Iron Baby” (a nickname from her parents, inspired by Onna’s joy and strength) was featured on Northwest Center anniversary ad campaigns. Five years later, Northwest Center is celebrating our 55th anniversary year, and Onna is now attending third grade where she is fully included with kids of all abilities, and still “dancing through life,” according to her mom Marija. Here’s what Marija had to say:
Q: Do you still call Onna the Dancing Iron Baby?
A: Oh no, we are not allowed to call Onna a baby any longer! Those are clear orders from the boss herself! She is no baby now and won’t let anyone call her anything other than by her first name. But she still dances through this life with such determination and pride, despite the systemic and structural barriers she experiences on a daily basis.
Q: How has Onna met or surpassed your expectations for her when she was a baby, when she was at NWC Kids, and now?
A: Onna has always been Onna, and that she will continue to be—disabled and fully proud of her disability as part of her identity, culture, and community. And we fully embrace and celebrate everything that she is. The only thing I’d say has changed over the years are my own expectations—not towards her, but towards society.
When you start this journey, you are surrounded by well-intentioned people trying to help “fix” your kid or teach her how to mask her disability and to make her appear as indistinguishable and as “normal” as possible so that she “fits in.” But imagine a life of never being accepted for everything that you are, for your humanity; always having your membership in the society conditional on how well you “fit in,” how much you appear to be “normal.” People with disabilities are valuable and worthy members of our society just as they are.
While there exists a lot of discrimination and barriers for disabled folks, those are the fault of society, not inherent in anyone’s impairments. So, it is not Onna and those like her that need fixing, but it is our society that needs to be fixed and step up to ensure access, inclusion and equitable opportunities in life, and full membership of all individuals.
Every step toward a more inclusive world is a step toward a better world. So yes, we expect and demand this societal change, and we teach Onna that she unapologetically demands her membership in this world.
Q: How have things changed since you had your little boy? What is their relationship like?
A: Onna is a very empathetic child and finds it challenging when others are crying and upset. And we all know how much babies cry! So it took some time for Onna to get used to a baby in the house. But her brother Corbijn is a big boy now and they have a wonderful relationship. They are great support for each other and look out for each other. Occasionally, we may have difficulty in understanding what Onna is communicating to us, but her brother always understands her perfectly.
Bridging Generations: With Northwest Center Early Intervention and the Seattle Developmental Bridge Program, both Grandparent and Grandchild get the Support they Need
It’s challenging for any parent to seek help for a child with special needs. It was even harder for Sandra, whose deep distrust of programs for kids with disabilities went back decades.
When Sandra was a child in a Seattle special needs program, she felt marginalized both for her cognitive difficulties and for being Black. Teachers would speak too quickly or use terms she did not know, making her feel like her understanding didn’t matter to them as much as that of her white classmates.
When Sandra had her first child, the cycle continued: her daughter was also placed in special education and experienced the same frustrations.
By the time Sandra recognized that Destiny, the granddaughter she was raising, needed support with her cognition and communication, she was hesitant to once again put her trust in a system that had let her and her family down—especially as a single parent with a low income who had already raised multiple children. But she overcame her initial fears so that Destiny, who was born drug-exposed, could begin Early Supports (ES) therapy with Northwest Center Kids.
Northwest Center is passionate about equal rights, anti-ableism, and full inclusion for people with disabilities. Thank you for reading.