Cross-posted with permission from Disability.gov
I recently shared my story as a speaker at the Alliance for Full Participation Summit in November, and today I would like to post some of my thoughts and experiences on Disability.Blog. My name is David Egan, and I have been an employee of Booz Allen Hamilton for 15 years. I believe that improving the employment opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities is a smart business decision and a social responsibility.
There are many people like me who are seeking to be valued members of our society. People with intellectual disabilities can succeed on the job. People with intellectual disabilities have dreams; we want to be included; we want to be a part of the community. We want employers to hire us, and we want to be useful members of our society – because we want to show OUR ABILITIES and to contribute to the goals of the businesses we work for.
How It Started and What I’ve Learned
Let me tell you how it all started for me and why I am able to succeed. It did not all happen suddenly. It took many years to prepare, and there were a few things I learned along the way:
(1) It takes a TEAM. All through my journey, there were very special people – my family, neighbors, friends, teachers, coaches and mentors – who made a difference in my life. They all helped me overcome obstacles.
(2) Inclusion starts at home. In my family, I was taught that work is part of life. Early on, I helped with family chores, and I was not excused because of my disability. On the contrary, I engaged in all of the activities: the fun ones and the not so fun.
(3) My disability is not an obstacle. It was hard for me to accept the fact that I have Down syndrome, but it became easier when I discovered that I was not alone. I know that I have a disability just like many others in this world, but my disability does not get in the way when I train and compete in Special Olympics sports. It is not an obstacle when I learn and perform; it is not a barrier when I take the bus to go to work or when I earn my paycheck every two weeks. It may be a challenge, but I think of all the things that I CAN DO.
The Road to Employment
Transition from school to work started for me in high school with an internship at the Wild Life Federation and then at the Davis Center, a vocational training school. However, the best internship was with Booz Allen Hamilton. I started as a clerk in the Distribution Center during the summer when I was a junior in high school.
The internship did not include transportation. My family and I discussed our options, and I started training on taking the bus to work. I learned some basic security when crossing the roads and how to make sure I knew where to take the bus and where to get off. It took a week, and then I was completely on my own throughout the summer. I have taken the bus now for the past 15 years.
My first supervisor was great. She took it upon herself to teach me everything there was to know about being a clerk in the Distribution Center. She believed in me. She wanted me to fit in, and after the summer internship, she asked me if I wanted to stay and become a staff employee. She taught me how to fill out my timesheet and establish a routine for the day.
I am treated like other employees at work. I receive benefits, time off, and an annual 360-degree assessment like everyone else. I go to compulsory training and participate in All Hands meetings and corporate events. The company cares about my personal and professional development.
I have also made many friends. And one of them is Greg, a senior employee in the Distribution Center, who knows me well and has been my role model for the past 15 years. He truly cares about me and gives me guidance.
The CEO of Booz Allen Hamilton, Dr. Ralph Shrader, has stated, “Work provides more than a paycheck. It brings dignity and community. When businesses open job opportunities to men and women with disabilities, everyone benefits – the individual, the company, and society at large.”
The Meaning of Inclusion
Inclusion also means that I have to give back to the community. When I was 12, I dreamt of winning the race in the Special Olympics. I still like the competition and want to win many races. But now, I dare to dream about changing the way people think of us, changing the perceptions, opening doors for people with disabilities to shine and overcome the disabilities, not only on the court but in the workplace and at all levels of our society. I believe in the Dignity Revolution, as Special Olympics International CEO Tim Shriver calls it. He coined that term at the World Games this past summer.
Dream with me, of a world where people are respected and encouraged to succeed: a world where people with intellectual disabilities are fully accepted and have great friends. Employing people with intellectual disabilities is a smart business decision and a social responsibility.
The goal is to make sure that all people with intellectual disabilities can launch successful careers. To achieve that goal, we need strong family and community support, good education and social skills, internships during high school, and a seamless transition from school to work, showing that WE CAN achieve because people have high expectations and value our contributions. We need mentors in the workplace, supervisors who are willing to take a risk and invest some time to teach us new skills and help us learn.
This is what it means to have an inclusive workforce. This is how we fulfill our social responsibility and make a good investment. Our nation and the world will be a better place for all of us – a place where people with disabilities do not have to hide and are fully accepted.
David Egan has been an employee of Booz Allen Hamilton in the Distribution Center of the McLean, VA campus since 1998. He is also an advocate for people with disabilities as a member of the Board of Directors of the Down Syndrome Association of Northern Virginia, and at the international level through Special Olympics, where he serves as a Global Messenger and co-chair for the Winter Games for Special Olympics Virginia. An athlete himself, he plays and competes in soccer, basketball, ice skating, softball, and swimming.
David has also served on the Special Olympics International, United States Athlete Leadership Program Committee and is a recipient of the 2002 Heroes Award from Special Olympics International and the 2003 Voices Award from the National Down Syndrome Society. He speaks at various fundraising events for Special Olympics and has been part of delegations for people with intellectual disabilities in Ireland and Morocco. He has visited both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate lobbying for people with disabilities. In 2011, he testified before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, which convened the first in a series of hearings to examine how to improve employment opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities.