- Posted byon October 20, 2014 at 2:00 PM EST
Jenny Lay-Flurrie is being honored as a Disability Employment Champion of Change.
As a person with a disability who is passionate about enabling others with disabilities, I am humbled and honoured to be a White House Champion of Change.
My journey with disability started early. By the age of 5, my hearing was already declining, a process that would continue over the next 30+ years. As a teenager and even through most of my twenties, I felt that I needed to hide my disability. My hearing loss is now profound, but by asking for the help I need and seeing my disability as a strength, I have been able to make myself – and now my employer – stronger. I am fortunate to work for a company that empowers and enables people to be successful. I wake up excited every morning, eager to get to work. I’m lucky to be in a position to make a difference, and this fact drives me to do more every day.
I am a Senior Director at Microsoft, leading the Trusted Experience Team (TExT), which focuses on privacy, online safety, and accessibility. Our goal is to provide a positive experience for all customers. As with any great journey, mine started by taking big terrifying steps. The first was to identify to Microsoft as a person with a disability. I joined the deaf ‘huddle’ group at Microsoft and went on to create and lead the DisAbility Employee Resource Group (ERG), a community of amazing people with disabilities, advocates, colleagues, and parents who share best practices and elevate understanding. At our first annual ‘Ability Summit’ four years ago, 80 people showed up. This past spring, 800 people came to Redmond headquarters to spend the day, which featured our CEO Satya Nadella, Washington Governor Jay Inslee, and many others. The theme of the summit was “Imagine, Build, Enable,” and we have taken that to heart at Microsoft.
In 2012, we announced the Disability Answer Desk (DAD), providing specialized support for customers with disabilities. Today, DAD helps about 4,000 customers a month do more with Microsoft products and services. The team is made up of talented people both with and without disabilities. In addition, I work with the Washington State Disability Taskforce, a public-private group focused on driving representation of people with disabilities in state government to at least 5%. Lastly, I sit on the US Business Leadership Network (USBLN) board of directors, which works towards disability inclusion in the workplace. It’s more “than just doing the right thing;” it’s about enabling people to be successful and achieve their dreams. It’s about changing lives, just as mine was changed.
At Microsoft, we are imagining and building technology for people with disabilities. During our company-wide ‘Hackathon’, we had projects focused on improving technology for people with deafness, blindness, autism, and more. Out of nearly three thousand submitted “hacks,” six of these projects placed in the top 100. I’m most proud of our work with former NFL player Steve Gleason, who is living with ALS, to help create prototype technology to independently move a wheelchair via eye tracking. This work won the 2014 Microsoft Hackathon Grand Prize!
My disability motivates me to strive for a higher bar—a new level of independence and empowerment. It helps me to understand and have empathy for our customers. I work to drive this understanding into Microsoft to create better products. So go on, if you want to know more about your customers, take that step and hire a person with a disability. They’ll teach you all you need to know.
Jenny Lay-Flurrie is a Senior Director at Microsoft, leading the Trusted Experience Team (TExT).
- Posted byon October 20, 2014 at 2:00 PM EST
David Bartage is being honored as a Disability Employment Champion of Change.
I am surprised and incredibly honored to be recognized as a White House Champion of Change for Disability Employment. What began as a small project has led to be my passion, encouraging businesses to find good-paying and sustainable employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
In 2010, the Procter & Gamble (P&G) site in Auburn, Maine, began planning to add a customization (FlexiCenter) center into their 24/7 manufacturing operation. During our initial discussions, we discussed how we should staff this center and quickly concluded that we should reapply a staffing model we saw at Walgreen’s Distribution Center, in which 30% to 40% of the employees were people with disabilities.
A local hiring agency for people with disabilities recommended me to reach out to the Maine Bureau of Rehabilitation Services (ME BRS) to develop strategies to integrate individuals with disabilities into our new customized packaging facility, the FlexiCenter. P&G and ME BRS partnered together to identify people with disabilities, the individuals were trained and assessed by ME BRS, and they were then re-assessed in the P&G workplace. ME BRS also worked with our manufacturing site, providing training to all our employees to better prepare us to encourage and support inclusion in the workplace.
Today, more than three years after opening the doors to the FlexiCenter, 40% of the FlexiCenter employees are individuals with disabilities, working alongside workers who have not disclosed any disability, performing the same jobs with the same expectations and same pay. Some of the benefits of the FlexiCenter include: increased productivity, zero safety incidents, zero quality incidents, 90% reduction in turnover, a significant improvement in morale, reduced hiring costs, reduced training costs, and increased “goodwill” in Maine.
As I was getting involved with our FlexiCenter, I worked with the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, and the ME BRS to start up the Maine Business Leadership Network (ME BLN). Since its inception, I have been the business leader of the ME BLN. The ME BLN is a state affiliate of the United States Business Leadership Network (USBLN). The ME BLN offers member employers resources for recruiting candidates with disabilities, information on disability issues, recognition for best disability employment practices, and exposure to an untapped market for their goods and services. We also view our role as that of a catalyst and a "connecting point" to promote dialogue and sharing of best practices between employers in a peer-to-peer setting.
Upon meeting someone for the first time, we are often times asked, “What do you do?” When asked that question, I imagine that for many the first response is what you do for a living. We take a lot of pride in what we do, and it helps to define who we are. It gives us an identity.
Over the last several years, I have seen what employment opportunities have done for our P&G employees with disabilities. It has given them an identity. It has provided them with an opportunity to be integrated into everyday life. It has impacted the employee and the employee’s family. I have heard parents thank us for giving their child an opportunity to work. They have expressed concern that they felt they had to outlive their child to provide them support. They now have hope that their sons and daughters can make it on their own.
What started as a project has turned into a passion for helping others and spreading the word of sustainable employment opportunities for people with disabilities. I encourage you to get started and make a positive change in your own way.
David Bartage is the Plant Finance Manager for the Procter & Gamble, Auburn, ME facility leading the Auburn sites’ efforts in hiring people with disabilities.
- Posted byon October 20, 2014 at 2:00 PM EST
Alexandra McArthur is being honored as a Disability Employment Champion of Change.
I love my job. As an Associate Consultant at the Taproot Foundation, I work with the country’s top companies to help them build high-impact corporate pro bono programs. I enable companies to use their most important resources, their people, to support nonprofits that are strengthening our communities. My position is challenging, fulfilling, and provides me with a livelihood. Seems pretty lucky, right?
As a person with a disability, a member of a population where only one out of three of adults ages 18-64 are employed, I’m more than lucky. Barriers, such as poor inclusion training, inaccessible workplaces, benefit systems that disincentive savings, and lack of financial literacy, are keeping talented persons with disabilities out of the workforce. Thus the poverty rate for people with disabilities is nearly double the U.S. national poverty rate.
This is why I work to reduce these barriers and change these statistics. In 2011, I was chosen as Ms. Wheelchair America on a platform of promoting workplace inclusion. In this position, I traveled across the nation to speak with corporations, associations, diversity groups, government officials, and job-seekers about how every sector can benefit from the talent, perspective, dedication, and creativity that people with disabilities bring to and encourage in their workplaces.
As a Co-Chair of the Junior Board of Resources for Children with Special Needs, I’ve helped to expose over 60 young professionals to the often-overlooked needs of the disability community. The Junior Board meets regularly to advocate for policy changes, volunteer with youth with disabilities, and to raise money for the organization. I’m thrilled that this year we chose disability employment as our advocacy focus. The board members now know how to make their workplaces, which include schools, investment firms, media agencies, just to name a few, more open to hiring people with disabilities and more accommodating to employees with disabilities.
There is much more work to be done to make improvements in the disability employment statistics, which have remained essentially unchanged since the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act nearly 25 years ago. Workforce development programs must integrate specialized programming for people with disabilities. Employers need training about the positive ways hiring people with disabilities impacts their bottom line, in addition to tangible strategies and avenues for recruiting people with disabilities. The disability community needs specialized financial literacy education.
But perhaps the most significant change needed is currently sitting in the hands of our lawmakers: the ABLE Act. Presently, a person with a disability who receives Social Security benefits cannot have more than $2,000 to their name without losing those benefits. $2,000. Total. The ABLE Act will provide the option for people with disabilities on benefits to earn a living and save for crucial expenses, such as retirement or medical equipment. Thus, it will allow gainful employment to be a realistic option and a true avenue for wealth accrual for people with disabilities.
I envision a world where people with disabilities are seen as assets in the workplace and are represented in the middle class. Through workforce development, financial education, and passing of the ABLE Act, let’s take steps together to make this vision a reality.
Alexandra McArthur is a Senior Associate Consultant at the Taproot Foundation and was Ms. Wheelchair America 2011.
- Posted byon October 20, 2014 at 9:12 AM EST
This op-ed by President Obama was published in Spanish on La Opinión. You can read the original op-ed in Spanish HERE.
One hundred and fifty years ago, President Lincoln signed a law that forever changed the way we conserve our natural heritage. It might have seemed an odd thing to do at the time. We were in the middle of the Civil War. The fate of our union hung in the balance. Lincoln himself had never even been to California; for a good part of his life, his home state of Illinois was the West.
But descriptions, drawings, and even some early photographs of the Yosemite Valley had made their way back East – as had stories about encroaching development that threatened the area. So President Lincoln decided to help protect a place he had never visited, for a nation he might not be able to save. In the darkest of days, he decided to bet on a future he would never live to see. And because he did, generations of Americans have known the wonders of Yosemite National Park.
That’s why, last week, I visited California to designate the San Gabriel Mountains a National Monument. This action will permanently protect more than 346,000 acres of rugged slopes and remote canyons that are home to an extraordinary diversity of wildlife and attract more than three million visitors every year – more than icons like Mount Rushmore and Grand Teton National Park.
What’s more, the San Gabriel Mountains contain millennia of history, from the ancient rock art of Native Americans to the Mount Wilson Observatory where Edwin P. Hubble showed the universe to be ever-expanding – and where astronomers explore the mysteries of space today.
In many ways, the story of the San Gabriel Mountains is the story of America. It’s the story of communities living in the great west – of Native Americans and Spanish missionaries, of colonialists and rancheros, of merchants and landowners. It’s the story of prospectors in search of gold; of settlers in search of a new life.
That story continues today – and it’s being written by one of our nation’s most vibrant, diverse communities, in the backyard of the second-biggest city in the country. Over fifteen million people live within 90 minutes of the San Gabriel Mountains. The mountains provide residents with roughly 30 percent of their water and 70 percent of their open space. The whole area is a huge boost to the local economy.
In fact, we heard from the community that for a lot of urban families, the San Gabriels are their only big, outdoor space. Too many children in L.A. County, especially Latinos and children of color, don’t have access to parks where they can run free, breathe fresh air, experience nature, and learn about their own environment.
It’s not enough to have that awesome natural wonder within sight. Everybody, no matter where they come from, or how much money they have, or what language they speak, should be able to access and experience it. Right now, campgrounds are crowded, parking lots are tight, and there haven’t been enough resources to manage and maintain this area the way it deserves. Designating the San Gabriel Mountains as a National Monument was just the first step in a broader effort to change that. It will enable the Forest Service, local communities, and leading philanthropies to work together to increase access and outdoor opportunities for all.
Because America belongs to all of us. That’s why, as President, I’ve preserved more than three million acres of public lands for future generations, and I’m not finished. My commitment to conservation isn’t about locking away our national treasures. It’s about working with communities to open our glorious heritage of nature to all Americans.
The San Gabriel Mountains National Monument will join a vast landscape of protected natural treasures – a wilderness that the writer Wallace Stegner once called, “a part of the geography of hope.” As Americans, we’re blessed with the most beautiful landscapes in the world. And we’re bestowed with the responsibility to preserve our magnificent natural inheritance, and ensure that this “geography of hope” remains the birthright of all Americans – not only for today, but for generations to come.
- Posted byon October 17, 2014 at 1:20 PM EST
From historic homesteaders to contemporary cattle ranchers, women have been the cornerstone of America’s agriculture heritage. We’ve produced food to feed our families, feed our neighbors, and to feed the world.
The 2012 Census of Agriculture notes that nearly 1 million women are working America’s lands. That’s nearly a third of our nation’s farmers. These women are generating $12.9 billion in annual agricultural sales.
Farm work isn’t the only way women are contributing to agriculture. We are scientists, economists, foresters, veterinarians, and conservationists. We are in the boardrooms and the corner offices of international enterprises, and are the owners and operators of small businesses. We are property owners and managers. We are policymakers and standard bearers. Women are increasingly involved in every aspect of agriculture.
- Posted byon October 16, 2014 at 10:46 AM EST
Yesterday marked the end of a month-long celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month across the Obama Administration, an opportunity to reflect on the invaluable contributions the Hispanic community has made to our nation’s rich diversity.
At the beginning of October, President Obama delivered a speech at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute 37th Annual Gala. At the event, the President discussed important milestones that Latinos have reached recently: the high school dropout rate amongst Latinos has been cut in half
,and Latino unemployment continues to decline. The President also reaffirmed his support for commonsense immigration reform and emphasized that he would take executive action, within the scope of his authority, to fix our nation’s broken immigration system by the end of the year. Director of the White House Domestic Policy Cecilia Muñoz spoke to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials about the Administration’s education priorities and initiatives to help more Latinos gain access to high-quality education.
The President’s Administration understands that the success of our country is inextricably linked to the success of the Hispanic community and has dedicated countless resources to ensure a bright future for our nation’s Latinos, and all Americans. To reaffirm this commitment, the Administration’s Cabinet Secretaries participated in conferences, roundtables, and policy forums to highlight the impact our Administration on improving the everyday lives of Latinos throughout Hispanic Heritage Month. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Castro spoke at the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Housing Summit and laid out his priorities of boosting homeownership and helping to lower rent costs to make it easier for millions of Latinos to achieve the American Dream. Small Business Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet hosted a roundtable with Latino business owners at the White House to discuss strategies for enhancing small business development and sustainability, given that Latinos are the fastest growing segment of people starting small businesses in the United States. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews-Burwell hosted Latino leaders at HHS to discuss ways to increase Latino enrollment during the upcoming open enrollment period for the Health Insurance Marketplace. These are just a handful of the Administration-wide efforts this year to not just recognize the contributions of Latinos but to make sure we have a seat at the table.
Additionally, to honor this country’s everyday heroes, the White House celebrated the hard work and dedication of Latino educators who are doing extraordinary work in their communities to educate the next generation of Americans. The White House honored these 10 individuals as “Champions of Change.”
To celebrate diversity within the Administration, Univision Noticias launched a special series on their website called “Los Hispanos del Presidente” (“The President’s Hispanics”), which highlights the important contributions Latinos make in the Administration. This piece featured 15 influential Hispanic White House staffers, who shared stories about their Hispanic heritage, childhood, path to the Administration, and how their work impacts Latino communities. This full digital view book is available online and across Univision’s social media platforms, but also aired on their Sunday morning and nightly news programs.
Finally, the Administration has also celebrated Hispanic leaders across diverse disciplines, such as Carlos Vives, the International Development (USAID) Inclusion Ambassador and popular Latin pop and vallenato singer and song writer. Vives has helped the Administration promote diversity and inclusion in Colombia year-round.
Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the legacy of the Hispanic community. Expanding from a small, regionally concentrated population of about 6 million in the 1960s, to a now a vibrant presence of 50 million Latinos across the country, Latinos will continue to enhance our country’s progress, and make an indelible mark on our future for generations to come.
Katherine Vargas serves as the Director of Hispanic Media at the White House
- Posted byon October 10, 2014 at 4:21 PM EST
Millennials are the largest, most diverse generation in the United States. That’s a fact from this week's report from the Council on Economic Advisers on the extraordinary progress our young people are making in this country. Latino millennials have contributed to this advancement significantly, and they will likely make up the majority of young people in the coming years.
Latino youth have already made important gains. The Hispanic high school dropout rate has been cut by more than half from 28% in 2000 to less than 13% in 2012, and more young people as a whole, especially women, are earning college degrees than ever before. The number of Hispanic students enrolled in college jumped by 45 percent from 2008 to 2012, with over a million Hispanic students enrolled today. The Hispanic unemployment rate has dropped, and poverty rates have dropped significantly for the first time since 2006.
It will only get better from here.
Millennials are more likely to have healthcare today without being job-locked, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, the number of Latinos with insurance coverage has surged. College student Jennifer Molina said, when she got coverage for the first time, “This is particularly important to the well-being of my friends and family, because Hispanic-Americans are more likely to be uninsured than any other racial or ethnic group.”
Today’s report highlights President Obama’s visit with entrepreneurs, technologists and other creative innovators in Los Angeles – young people who are shaping the new American economy. Millennials have come a long way since the Great Recession and are now more diverse and educated than any other generation.
Although young people still face new challenges, the President is confident we can tackle these headwinds together as a country. This progress starts with basic steps. Let’s raise the minimum wage to help young people transitioning into the workforce. Around a quarter of those would benefit from legislation that would raise the wage to $10.10 are Hispanic.
We also need to help alleviate student loan debt, the burden saddling too many millennials just graduating from school. Let’s expand educational opportunities, especially for young Latinos, so that they have the tools to succeed and empower their communities. To work towards that goal, President Obama recently launched the My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge, an effort to encourage local communities to implement a coherent cradle-to-college and career strategy aimed at improving life outcomes for all young people.
But ultimately, the promise of America’s future and strong middle class rests in the hopes and dreams of our young people. Latino youth exemplify that promise – if you work hard and play by the rules, you should have the opportunity to succeed no matter the circumstances of your birth.
Check out the findings from this week's report in this infographic (featuring Millennial-friendly emoji), and pass it on. And to read more about the President’s accomplishments for the Hispanic community, click HERE.
Katherine Vargas serves as the Director of Hispanic Media at the White House.
- Posted byon October 10, 2014 at 3:47 PM EST
This blog post was cross-posted on EFE, and you can read the original article HERE.
Hispanic Heritage Month is the perfect time to reflect on the extraordinary contribution that the Latino workforce makes to our nation’s economic vitality. This is also a time to remember that as a nation, we need to ensure that all hardworking people are able to get ahead and reach for the American dream.
It used to be that you could support a family on a minimum-wage salary. Today, a minimum-wage worker has to make a choice every day: Buy a gallon of milk for the kids, or buy a gallon of gas to get to work. That is why it’s time to raise the minimum wage.
Today, Latinos account for around a quarter of current minimum wage workers, despite only representing around 16% of all workers. Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would make a difference in the lives of around 28 million workers — roughly one quarter of the workers who would benefit from that raise are Latinos.
President Obama continues to call on Congress to increase the national minimum wage, but they have continuously failed to act. Fortunately, people around the country aren't waiting. A national movement is inspiring states, local governments and forward-looking businesses to show leadership where Congress hasn't.
Thirteen states plus the District of Columbia have passed new laws increasing their minimum wages over the last year and a half. More than 7 million workers will benefit from those increases.
A higher minimum wage is pro-business as well as pro-worker. Employers have embraced a higher minimum wage and acted on their own to raise their employees' pay. From national brands such as Costco and the Gap, to the Ace Hardware store just a mile away from my office, companies are giving their workers a raise not just because it's the right thing to do but also the smart thing to do for the bottom line. It improves morale, productivity and customer service; it reduces absenteeism, turnover and training costs.
Many employers believe that the people who make or sell their products ought to make enough money to buy them. In an economy driven by consumer demand, what any business needs most are customers. When working families have more money in their pockets, they pump it right back into the economy. They spend it on goods and services in their communities — and that helps businesses grow, which creates more jobs.
In addition to asking Congress to act, the President is doing what he can to help more workers get a raise. He signed an executive order, which we at the Labor Department are in the process of implementing, to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour for private-sector workers on federal contracts. It's hard to argue against this idea: If you serve meals to our troops for a living, you shouldn't have to struggle to make ends meet in order to serve a meal to your family at home.
As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, let us honor the important contributions of Latino workers to this nation’s economic vitality by recommitting ourselves to expanding opportunity for Latinos.