Empowering Symposium: ‘People with disabilities are equal to the task’
By Christina Tsosie
Staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
CHURCHROCK — In 1945, Congress declared the first week of October “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” In 1988, Congress extended that week to the month of October and changed the name to “National Disability Employment Awareness Month.” Since then, awareness, multiple services and programs have been created to assist people with disabilities in finding a job. In an attempt to educate area employers, the Tohatchi Area of Opportunity & Services, Inc., held an inaugural symposium at the Red Rock Auditorium in Churchrock Thursday. TAOS is a local support program in Gallup that focuses on promoting independence, self sufficiency and community inclusion for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
‘Reliable and hardworking’
“It is important to observe this month with appropriate programs and activities and to advance the important message that people with disabilities are equal to the task throughout the year,” TAOS chief executive officer Kimber Crowe said Thursday.
“Employers need to know that hiring an individual with disabilities is not a liability. I have worked with many individuals, and let me tell you, they are some of the most reliable and hardworking people you’ll ever work with,” she said.
According to the Institute for Corporate Productivity, 89 percent of employees with intellectual and developmental disabilities are dependable and 84 percent of employees with IDD have perfect attendance.
A paragon of patience
Patricia Tohe, a maker of jewelry who sells her pieces, set up a booth at the symposium. The entrepreneur sells her hand-beaded pieces out of her home. A video of a patient Patricia painstakingly piecing tiny beads together showed her passion for her artistry.
“When you look at that, it just goes to show that she has more patience than most of us,” Crowe said of the video.
During the symposium, outstanding workers who live with everyday challenges were featured, among those was Jennifer Notah, a busser at Earl’s Family Restaurant.
Jennifer Notah said she enjoys her job and the camaraderie she has with fellow co-workers. “I like what I do, I make sure that everything is clean and I set the tables with napkins and silverware,” Notah said.
A video played showing Notah executing her daily chores while on the job.
“I was a little nervous when I was being recorded, but I still did it all perfect the way I was taught,” she said.
Hilton Garden Inn
Two model employees who work at the Hilton Garden Inn in Gallup were also among those featured during the symposium.
Shelby Peterson, of Gallup, has been at the hotel for two years.
“I love my job cooking,” said Peterson. “It helps me become independent in that I can pay for my bills and cook for my family.”
Hilton Garden Inn general manager Addie Montoya said cook Shelby Peterson and housekeeper Michael Bright are two of her most reliable, dedicated workers.
“Not only are they punctual and reliable, they never call in and even on their days off they want to work,” Montoya said. “I think it’s great how TAOS and other employers in town work together to give everyone a chance. We are going to keep spreading the word and raising awareness because employers need to know that they’re missing out.”
The audience in the Red Rock Auditorium was a little thin despite numerous attempts to invite area employers to attend the symposium.
“I think that is because people fear what they don’t understand and that is a major reason why we are raising awareness,” Crowe said. “It’s really a gift to work with these individuals, most days I know that I have the best job in the world because I get to work with them. And it is just part of the job that I help them get a chance to show employers that they are up to the task. Now, if only businesses in the area will give them a chance.”
Navajo Jewelry Artist Patricia Tohe attends the Employment Awareness for People with Disabilities Employer Symposium in Churchrock Thursday. Tohe is self-employed and was featured in a video shown during the symposium making her jewelry.
Alma E. Hernandez/Independent
School-to-Work Training Project Consultant Marcy Hintz speaks at the Employment Awareness for People with Disabilities Employer Symposium in Churchrock Thursday about the benefits of employment for people with disabilities.
Alma E. Hernandez/Independent