“Our vision is about creating a world where inclusion is something that happens every day. It’s not an exception to the rule, it IS the rule.”
It’s a beautiful, bright morning. I’m sitting at a breakfast hosted by Gatepath, a Bay Area nonprofit that has been serving those with special needs for 96 years. I’m listening to their CEO. Bryan Neider, speak the vision of a truly inclusive world. Immediately my mind flashes to the imaginary world of Star Trek.
‘This is what Bryan is speaking of,’ I think to myself. A truly inclusive world where the concept of disability doesn’t exist.
How can we ever hope to achieve that kind of world?
“We must be diligent at breaking down the barriers to hiring people with special needs, including dispelling misconceptions and stereotypes.”
Bryan’s right. And each of us in the special needs and autism communities must do our part. We cannot remain on the sidelines and wait for others to do the work for us. We can’t keep our stories private anymore. It’s up to us to start the conversations, to ask for opportunities for our loved ones, and inspire our communities to take action. We need to motivate companies to hire our children, not out of charity, but because they recognize their value.
It doesn’t matter how big your circle of influence is…just start! Fortunately for us, we do have others we can look to for inspiration. Someone like Holly Robinson Peete. She has a huge public forum as a celebrity. She could have easily chosen to keep her son’s autism diagnosis private. Instead, she sees an opportunity to spark change.
Holly spoke at the breakfast about why she and her husband, Rodney Peete, decided to do their reality show “For Peete’s Sake.”
“I thought, what if we could use a reality genre for something positive? We wanted to show a young man with autism and a family who rallies around him.”
Her son RJ’s story resonated with audiences…
“RJ understands the power of his advocacy…He’s always asking, am I helping people?”
The show put a spotlight on RJ’s hunt for a job which highlighted many of the challenges someone on the spectrum encounters. An executive from the LA Dodgers saw the show and offered her son a job working in the clubhouse.
“The inclusion, the teamwork, and the fact these team players embrace him and hug him…they give him a feeling that he belongs. That’s all he ever wanted to do, belong and just be included. And that’s so powerful…for a major league baseball team to just be there for him is amazing.”
Yes, RJ does have celebrity parents and their show opened the door for this opportunity—Holly acknowledges this. But I could see how it emotionally affected her; after all, celebrity or not, she’s just a mom who wants her child to have a chance.
Holly says that she shares her son’s job quest hoping that other companies will expand their hiring to include those on spectrum. According to the United States Department of Labor, only 20 percent of neurodiverse adults in the US are employed, compared to their peers at 68.5 percent.
Holly and her family aren’t stopping their advocacy any time soon. They’re currently out on tour to talk about their new book, Same But Different: Teen Life on the Autism Express.
“We knew it was important to give a young man with autism a voice,” said Holly. “Many people on the spectrum are non-verbal and have trouble communicating. We often forget that they have a voice.”
I have every confidence with people like Holly, you, me and organizations like Gatepath, we can achieve a Star Trek world. Maybe it won’t include warp drive or a starfleet academy, but it’ll be a world where the word “inclusion” no longer exists because it’s no longer necessary. It just is.
Images courtesy of Gatepath