Workshop aims to dispel stereotypes

Posted: Wednesday, October 09, 2002

People with disabilities face and overcome challenges in everyday life that many people without disabilities can't even imagine, including stereotypes, discrimination and ignorant assumptions about what they can and can't accomplish.

One of these stereotypes is that people with disabilities can't work or don't make good employees.

According to Loretta Spalding, resource specialist with the Alaska Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Work Incentive Grant program, that assumption is simply wrong and needs to be dispelled.

With October being Disability Employment Awareness Month, this is an appropriate time to dispel these assumptions. To that end, the Alaska Department of Labor Work Incentive Grant is sponsoring a workshop from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday at the Peninsula Job Center in the Kenai Mall.

The workshop is designed to make connections between disability consumer groups, employers, people with disabilities who are interested in employment and area agencies that offer services for employers of and people with disabilities, Spalding said.

Hopefully, participants will gain information about the different groups, learn about assistive technologies that can be used in the workplace, work incentive programs and available assistance for employers and employees with disabilities -- all to the end of creating more employment opportunities for area people with disabilities.

In Alaska, 67 percent of people with disabilities would like to be employed, Spalding said, yet it can be difficult for them to find employment opportunities. Part of that difficulty comes from common stereotypes, like they don't make good employees.

The truth is, people with disabilities are less likely to miss work, and they make dedicated and dependable employees, Spalding said. Another stereotype is that people with physical disabilities are developmentally disabled as well.

"People in wheelchairs are immediately thought to have lower IQs than the average person, which is just incredibly stupid," Spalding said. "It's just frustrating because we all have these wonderful abilities. Just because someone visually has something that's different, it's assumed that they are not equal to us."

A lack of employment opportunities for people with disabilities is a nationwide problem. That is why it is especially important for programs like this workshop to be held, so more employment opportunities are created, Spalding said.

"Our goal is to help these people, because most of them would like to be self sufficient," she said. "And there are all kinds of benefits to working. ... Everybody needs something to look forward to."

The workshop will begin with introductions and a celebration at 9 a.m., continue with a special guest speaker at 9:15 a.m., break for lunch at noon, continue with agency presentations at 1 p.m. and wrap up from 3 to 4 p.m.

The guest speaker will be Sabine Becker Delmoitie. Delmoitie was born in West Germany in 1962 with abbreviated arms. She learned to use her feet to accomplish tasks like dressing, brushing her hair, writing and driving.

Delmoitie earned a bachelor of science degree in social work and a master's degree in clinical psychology. She has worked with disabled children in countries around the world. She also became an artist, making "Alaska Spirit Dancer" dolls from leather and decorating them with necklaces, dresses, feathers and moose and caribou antler. She owns the Special Feet studio in Wasilla and sells her creations from her studio and art galleries in Alaska and Washington.

Currently, Delmoitie is involved in advocating disability awareness and independent living. She has addressed disability conferences throughout the United States and speaks to children in schools about how she uses her feet.

She was awarded the Alaskan of the Year Award in 2001. In her presentations, she conveys a message that anyone with a disability can overcome adversity through persistence, commitment and willingness to think differently.

"I can't wait to hear her," Spalding said of Delmoitie. "Her real emphasis is education and not stopping at barriers, but overcoming them. She sounds like a great lady."

Preregistration for the workshop is encouraged as space is limited, but Spalding said organizers would try to accommodate anyone who attends Friday. Lunch will be provided for preregistered participants. Participants may attend any or all of the events.

Any agency, employer or person with a disability who wants to share a personal story during the workshop will be encouraged to do so.

"Hopefully people will come with an idea to enjoy the day and learn a little more about each other and celebrate our commonalities," Spalding said.

For more information, call Spalding at 283-0371.

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