Focus on a Person’s Abilities, Not Their Disabilities

Posted on April 2, 2019

In 2018, the CDC determined that approximately 1 in 59 children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Over 6.5 million Americans live with an intellectual development disorder (IDD).

In Plano, Texas, My Possibilities and LaunchAbility, two organizations that provide vocational learning and job placement services for adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD), joined forces to fight the stigma of a flawed disability paradigm (now, LaunchAbility Career Services is a program at My Possibilities).

The flaw is focusing on what an individual can’t do, instead of focusing on what a person can do.

This flawed disability paradigm is especially prevalent in the ASD community, where the varying nature of being on the spectrum can create a myopia of trying to catalog exactly what those with disabilities can’t do.

But what if it were reversed and the focus was placed not on an individual’s disabilities, but rather on their skills, talents, and passions? This is a far more personalized and dignified, and, one could argue, effective way to understand and best support someone in reaching their full potential.

Everyone deserves to dream, and we believe the most inspiring stories can come from the people in the immediate world around us — at work, at home, at church, at the park, etc. Amazing stories are all around us.

Stories, like Greg’s — whose dream was a full-time job.

Prior to finding LaunchAbility Career Services (LCS), Greg worked at Albertsons and helped with sacking groceries, helping customers take their groceries to the car and retrieving shopping carts. He was a good employee and was happy that he had the job, but he wanted more.

Finding his next job was fraught with obstacles until he was referred to LCS by DARS (the state vocational rehabilitation agency). Everything went smoothly from there. Greg interviewed and was accepted to the 2013 LaunchAbility Academy, where he started working and found his passion.

“I work full-time at the Blue Cross BlueShield headquarters,” said Greg. “And I’m an asset to my coworkers.”

“We met Greg while he was in the Academy program and we were just blown away by his work ethic, how quickly he caught on and how excited he was to be here every day,” said L. Denise Williams, Senior Manager EHC Programs & Budgets and Greg’s supervisor.

Greg’s role is dynamic and expansive, involving tasks such as data entry, collecting member surveys, helping with binding, mailings, filing projects, and managing the 12 copy rooms on two floors at BCBS headquarters. Greg makes sure supplies are stocked and the copiers are working correctly. The task he enjoys most is delivering projects and mail to his coworkers. “I like getting the chance to walk around and talk to other people,” he said.

“Everyone knows Greg and appreciates him for what he does,” said one coworker. “He makes us smile.”

Greg celebrated his six-year anniversary as a full-time employee with benefits at BCBS last August.

Greg also serves as a mentor for Academy participants. He helps them navigate through their tasks and jumps at the opportunity to speak at Academy graduations. “I always use quotes or slogans—usually funny things—that make people laugh,” said Greg.

His favorite slogan that best characterizes his approach to his job at BlueCross BlueShield is Nike’s – Just Do It!

The job has not been without its challenges. When Greg first started working at BCBS he steered clear of social events and hanging out with his peers. Today, he is a team player and attends events outside of work, including volunteer opportunities and social outings with coworkers.

“Greg is very patient and does a great job explaining [roles and tasks] and teaching his peers,” said Morisa Myrick, his My Possibilities job coach. “He is a very dedicated and reliable employee. It’s amazing to see how much Greg has grown in his job and as a person.”

Greg’s positive impact at his company is an example of what happens when a shift occurs in the disability paradigm. By disengaging with the negatives and elevating the strengths within a person — their skills, passions, and perspicuity — organizational results, positive relationships, and dreams come true.

The model of LaunchAbility and My Possibilities and Greg’s story are not exceptions, but rather the new norm. The same can happen for others. And it does, if we take the time to listen to the good news, and not harp the bad news. Success starts with seeing the full potential in someone, not their limitations. For “HIPsters” (Hugely Important People) like Greg, sometimes having a full-time job is all it takes to be happy.

While every person’s story is different and IDDs are serious and complex conditions, the pathway to hope and meaningful employment starts with ascribing an individual’s identity to their abilities, not their disabilities.