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News | Written By Trevor Pacelli, Contributing Writer

Our Turn: Employment Advocacy Day In Olympia

​By Trevor Pacelli, Contributing Writer

Enjoy this first-person account of Trevor’s trip to the Washington State Capitol in Olympia, where he joined with other Northwest Center employees and friends as a self-advocate for inclusive employment.

​“Why should I be an advocate?”

That’s a question many of us ask when we learn how few people with developmental disorders have a good full-time job. Earlier this year, many of us from Washington state traveled to the state capitol to find an answer to that question.
We met up at the United Churches, a block from the Legislative Building, to talk about our plan for the day. Outside, the air was nippy, with snow barely glazing the lawn. Inside, the pews were packed as the sun beamed a carnation violet through stained glass windows. Together, we heard the hope among the good and bad news.

​First to speak was Ed Holen, a Washington State Developmental Disabilities Council representative, who talked about the 6,804 estimated Washington residents with disabilities employed last year, as well as the decrease in average labor hours. Then Margaret Lee Thompson, whose son with Down syndrome died 13 years ago, discussed how best we could share our individual stories with a legislative aid. This led right into a testimony by Ivanova Smith, a new parent who also has a disability, about how she had a terrible first work experience but is now happily working full time.

ext, we heard an update about the hearings and bills of interest. Much stress landed on bill HB 2658, which concerns the toxic PFAS chemicals in food packaging and their potential link to some developmental disorders. Other bills mentioned included those on hearing aids, service dogs, sexual abuse, student stigmatization, and expansion on homeless housing assistance.

Then it was time for the rally outside the Legislative Building. We began a chant: “Who deserves a pay day? We do!” Sure enough, those two final words excited the crowd filling the building’s outer steps. Then we stood out in the cold, our ears turned toward the motivational speakers who ranged from those with developmental disorders to parents to state representatives.

As someone on the autism spectrum myself, I know the struggle many others feel when trying to earn a worthwhile position combined with the current miniscule focus on giving people with disabilities more hours. We deserve employment rights, and I’m not talking about stereotypically coveted big business roles. Profitable jobs can include hospital supply organization and house cleaning. Heck—one can even make a grand income as a plumber!

Despite their skills, why is it so hard for people with disabilities to find full-time work? Some stated reasons include:

  • Jobs in the area differ from the skill set of the individual.
  • Not enough training is available.
  • Social Security benefits are only eligible if one earns less than a certain wage.

Try to see these facts as a positive challenge. Even if nobody in your immediate family carries a disability, a community or organization nearby still needs YOUR help. It could be a donation, it could be volunteering, it could be writing a letter of encouragement—it purely depends on your personal capability.

I am glad so many people came to such a faraway city (It took me an hour and a half to get there!) for a rarely spoken cause. It’s their turn, it’s your turn, it’s our turn to get involved!

Learn about Employment Services for people of all abilities. 
Talk to Northwest Center about making a workplace inclusive.