National Disability Employment Awareness Month: Bringing inclusion to North Country workforce


WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWTI) — Creating opportunities for people of all abilities is what National Disability Employment Awareness Month is all about.

The month of awareness focuses on inclusion in the workforce and in 2021, “reflects the importance of ensuring that people with disabilities have full access to employment and community involvement during the national recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the United States Department of Labor.

Addressing the month was an agency that knows the subject well: The Arc Jefferson-St. Lawrence, which focuses on providing opportunities for individuals with disabilities in the North Country.

“National Employment Disability Awareness Month is really huge for the Arc Jefferson-St. Lawrence,” Director of Community Relations and Business Development Michelle Quinell said. “It gives us an opportunity to bring forward these wonderful stories of people impacting positive change in their communities and showing the public, all of the abilities that people with disabilities truly have.”

The Arc works with local partners and on federal contracts to match individuals with ideal opportunities that best meet their skill set. Federal contracts include employment opportunities at the Fort Drum military installation and along the Northern Border at Customs and Border Protection sites.

The Arc has also seen a massive expansion in recent years. In 2019, the former Jefferson Rehabilitation Center and St. Lawrence NYSERC merged and became the Arc Jefferson- St. Lawrence.

“That unification really gave us an opportunity to employ people with disabilities in a wider range,” Quinnell noted. “It gave us the chance to come forward and really find. Services and supports that help people to grow their special, unique skills in the workplace.”

Since then, the agency has continued to expand opportunities to those with disabilities, including the completion of a capital construction project in Watertown.

But as workplace discrimination remains a topic of concern, Quinell shared what other organizations and businesses could learn from the Arc Jefferson- St. Lawrence in years to come.

“When you hire a person with a disability to work on your team, you’re getting a dependable person who comes in and works tirelessly for you every day,” she expressed. “The people that we support and train to go out into the workforce or to work at our own locations, they come into work every day with a positive attitude and really wanting to do their best.”

National Disability Employment Awareness Month is celebrated annually in October. It will be nationally observed this year until October 31.

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