(Author’s note: On September 5, 2007, I was invited to St. Paul to testify on behalf of the disability community in front of the Legislative Commission on Eliminating Poverty by the year 2020. I was asked to speak about my education and frustration in obtaining gainful employment. Below is my actual testimony.)
Members of the Commission on Poverty:
My name is Jeffrey Nurick and I have Cerebral Palsy. As a member of the larger disability community, I consider it an honor to speak to you today. I graduated 4th in my high school class, received my Bachelors degree with a 3.3 GPA, was inducted into the National Social Science Honor Society and completed an internship at the White House during the Clinton administration. I also completed two years of service in an AmeriCorps program in Minneapolis. Like you, I’m proud of my accomplishments, but now I just want to obtain full-time and meaningful employment. I have invested a lot of time, money and energy in my future, and right now I’m feeling that it is all in vain.
Unfortunately, the unemployment rate among people with disabilities is overwhelming. Most of us are collecting Social Security and other government benefits just to survive. However, employment is about much more than just money. If that’s all it’s about, we can all go home and resume life as normal. The truth of it is that employment is about being accepted, being respected, making a contribution and waking up in the morning looking forward to going to work. My whole life I was told that I needed to get a good education in order to be a productive person. Sure, it is easier to open up a mailbox every month and collect your welfare check, but I’m here to tell you, that’s not what most people with disabilities want to do. I don’t know about you, but we would rather earn our pay. That is one of my most important values.
I have the education, the experience, the drive and the motivation. I’ve applied for numerous jobs but have not as yet secured one. I’ve been rejected by the private sector, not-for-profits, and government agencies. Let me tell you, this is one area where there is no discrimination. My county vocational counselor suggested that I become a greeter at a supermarket or discount chain. I know what I can accomplish and what my capabilities are, but employers and even many well-meaning advocates for the disabled can’t seem to get past my wheelchair and speech impediment.
Now very briefly, let me mention employment in the nonprofit and government agencies whose mission it is to help people with disabilities. Some are better than others, but believe it or not, the great majority of their workers in meaningful jobs are able-bodied and most disabled workers, with few exceptions, have relatively minor disabilities. Fulfilling their mission with INTEGRITY means HIRING people like me—and not just in their sheltered workshops either.
I’ve met and surpassed many challenges in my life, and I am determined to find a meaningful, fulfilling job where I can help my employer meet their organization’s goals and objectives. On a daily basis I am constantly searching Web sites, networking, going to meetings, volunteering and speaking to people. As an educated and experienced person with a physical disability, I am uniquely qualified to connect with a diverse population. I am constantly being told by colleagues, clients and managers that I motivate and inspire others to excel. I would like a chance to do this in a paid setting now.
The late Justin Dart Jr., known as the father of the Americans with Disabilities Act, had a famous quote that I would like to share. “Get off your ass and play God.” Furthermore, futurist Joel Barker once said, “Vision without action is just daydreaming. Action without vision is merely biding time. But vision plus action can change the world!” I feel the presence of these two fine gentlemen here today, shaking their heads in disappointment at our society. I, too, have a dream, similar to Martin Luther King. I see the day when all people, able-bodied and disabled, work together, live together and are happy together.
If in any way I inspired you today, I leave you with one question. When you leave today’s meeting, what are you going to do to ensure you are giving everyone, of all abilities, a chance to show their true merits, who they really are, and what they truly can do?