April is National Autism Awareness Month. As CEO of the Northeast Arc, which serves more than 15,000 people with disabilities in 190 Massachusetts communities, including thousands of individuals with autism and their families, you might think I would be very excited about it. After all, it is an opportunity to promote all the innovative programs and services we offer for those on the spectrum. That may be fine in theory, but what about the other 11 months of the year? Are we supposed to remain quiet or maybe put our work with these folks on the back burner so we can think about how we will market Down Syndrome Awareness Month in October?
As a society, we need to move away from these artificially themed months and be focused on ensuring we have an inclusive society where everyone is accepted and valued. If we only think about the people we serve getting jobs during the month of March because it is National Disability Employment Month, we would be doing a disservice to those with disabilities who are not employed or are underemployed. We would also be doing a disservice to society and the economy because our workforce program is helping to match employees with entry-level positions that employers are struggling to fill. These employees are dedicated, reliable and want to work.
While it might be fun to get free coffee on National Coffee Day or have a laugh with co-workers on National Talk Like A Pirate Day, such national days, weeks and months should be focused on these more trivial activities. There are real issues of employment, housing, education, economic and food insecurity. We must move away from awareness days and months and toward acceptance where we celebrate the differences among us whether they be those with disabilities or others that have been marginalized by society for far too long.
Jo Ann Simons
President & CEO