The Harkin Summit: Innovating for Inclusion

Doubling Disability Employment In A Changing Landscape

TWITTER MOMENT: See what people were saying during this panel

The second Harkin Summit continued Friday in Washington D.C., featuring a panel of young people with disabilities to discuss the future of disability employment.

The panel was moderated by Maria Town, director of the City of Houston Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities. The participants included Jessica Cox, goodwill ambassador for Handicap International; Ari Hazelman, representative for Nuanua O Le Alofa in Samoa; Leah Katz-Hernandez, special projects manager at Gaulladet University; Sara Luterman, founder and editor of NOS Magazine; and Sara Minkara, founder and president of Empowerment Through Integration.

Prompted with questions about the future of employment for people with disabilities, the panel addressed issues ranging from attitudinal barriers in the workplace to entrepreneurship as a solution for disabled unemployment.

Katz-Hernandez emphasized the intersectionality of disability employment issues with related issues of sexual violence and gender equity in the workplace, calling on employers to keep their workplaces safe for people of all identities. The issue of proper compensation was also discussed; called the “third shift,” people with disabilities often find themselves working overtime and without compensation as they travel and advocate for their rights. Cox, the world’s first licensed armless pilot, has traveled to 21 countries doing advocacy work.

In light of these challenges, the panel applauded their community for its resilience and willingness to take risks. Luterman, who lives with autism and worked at the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD) for two years, recently left her job to pursue publication of her neurodiversity magazine, NOS. She now has 40,000-50,000 unique readers online. Sara Minkara, who is blind, runs Empowerment Through Integration (ETI), a nonprofit working with the visually-impaired in the MENA region; despite needing a bone marrow transplant two weeks after leaving work, Sara managed to work through and after the operation, going on to run ETI full-time like she had planned.

The panel encouraged summit attendees to change their systems and employ people with disabilities in mainstream, full-time positions. People with disabilities are the most adaptive and creative employees that can be hired, they argued, as they have spent their whole lives working through significant challenges. Ari Hazelman emphasized the role paid advocacy positions can play in corporate, government, and university leadership, citing Jenny Lay-Flurrie’s role as Chief Accessibility Officer for Microsoft as a prime example of effective institutional change.


- Written by Dustin Eubanks