Celebrating National Disability Employment Awareness Month
Thank you, Susan, and City of San Diego. Thank you, Mayor Sanders, Bruce, and Louis for being here. I am so blessed to be here today. Today is really two things. It is a celebration of how far we’ve come in our struggle for equality. But also a reminder of how far we still need to go. It is a celebration and a call to employers to join us in this solution.
In my role with the Padres, I am granted many things. The opportunity to work with community organizations and see how the Padres can make their lives better. The opportunity to work with our players in taking their passion for various causes and turning that into charitable support. The opportunity to play a role in this game and city I love so much.
But what it grants me, above all, is opportunity itself. You see, I know that as a triple amputee with three prosthetics, working in a full-time job for a highly visible organization, is an anomaly, and a rarity. Normally, all too often, someone with a disability this “severe” – quote, unquote – and even less severe, never gets a chance. Too many employers still look at the disability rather than the ability.
For me, it all started with a chance. Myself and all of San Diego lost a great man this year when Mr. David Nuffer passed away. David was a great business leader and pioneer in the public relations field. He was also the ONLY person, after my graduation from college, who would even think of offering me…not even a job…but a job interview. Unlike so many others, who seemed nervous if I walked in their door or inquired about an opening, Dave had an opposite view. He would often GROWL when he talked so I’d hear Let me give you an interview…and then let me give you a writing test…and then finally let me give you a job. It is what we, like any job seekers, long to hear.
It was like getting a passport to a fantastic journey. Working for his PR firm led to working for The Access Center, now known as Access to Independence, and then the Hispanic Chamber, and the Padres. It’s been a journey of struggle and adversity, triumph and determination, accomplishment and dreams fulfilled.
In those Access Center days, my first full-time job, we did a study with Dave’s firm, in fact. We looked at the unemployment rate for persons with disabilities in 1997 and it was a whopping NINETY-ONE PERCENT. The reasons were many. But we also looked at statistics of businesses who hired at least one person with a disability and THOSE numbers were staggering. Satisfied employers: ninety-five percent. Employees who stayed at that company a long duration: eighty-nine percent. Companies who said they’d hire a disabled person again: 99%!
And yet here we are, in 2011, and the economy is slow. And disability unemployment rates are high. And what I’d like to convey to every employer out there is give this segment of the population what Dave Nuffer gave ME: a chance. To those that are seeking employment, I commend you. And I assure the Directors and Managers here, you can find some great employees among us. I urge you, when looking at how to fill your office with hard workers, with brand loyalty, and a tireless work ethic, to look our way.
We must look at WHY this gap exists. Transportation is a major issue. So is the reality of people feeling it’s more beneficial to stay at home rather than haggle with Social Security and red tape.
Now, I recently was able to take two of our Padres players, Heath Bell and Ernesto Frieri, to Casa Familiar in San Ysidro for a ribbon-cutting and donation of a teen center to which the Padres made a contribution. And as I was there, right in the middle of Hispanic Heritage Month, it struck me that the best thing we were giving these kids is opportunity. Our players and broadcasters even told them that: what you are receiving today is opportunity. Just like we received as kids from working-class families. And I was only able to participate because the Padres gave me an opportunity.
To look past my challenges. To move past my barriers. To get assistance when I need it. And to contribute to a team that contributes to society. If you are a person with a disability, never give up; as we say in baseball, always keep swinging. If you are an employer, grant that opportunity. Your business will be better for it, as will our city. We have much to celebrate but much, much more to do. Always keep working and always, always Keep Swinging.