When I was a child and slowly losing my eyesight, my dad told me I may have to work harder to do everything other people can do with full sight. I became completely blind when I was in college. I continued to study and earned my engineering degree from Purdue University. Like all college grads, I was ready to take what I learned and start working. I applied to work for 50 companies and received 50 dings or rejection letters.
Finally, one company, AT&T, took a chance and decided to hire the blind engineer from Purdue. Did those other 50 companies reject me because of my blindness? Maybe. But I always knew that even though I was blind, I had all the skills and qualifications to be a very good engineer, which is why I persisted.
When the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law on July 26, 1990, it was the first-ever civil rights law for people with disabilities. It guaranteed access to goods, resources and services, such as employment opportunities for people with disabilities, and it prohibited employment discrimination against people with disabilities. Government agencies and people nationwide stood up and said that we will no longer allow our society to exclude people with disabilities.
On a deeper level, the ADA has had a great affect on the work that I do as president of Goodwill Industries International. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, people with disabilities have a more than 14-percent unemployment rate, compared to 9.4 percent of people without disabilities. People without disabilities make up approximately 22 percent of the U.S. workforce, compared to nearly 71 percent of people without disabilities.
Goodwill Industries® has been helping people with disabilities and many others find jobs, earn paychecks and support their families. Goodwill® agencies around the country have a variety of services for people with disabilities. Goodwill Industries of Orange County (Santa Ana, CA) opened the Goodwill Fitness Center, a 12,000-square-foot facility designed so people with disabilities and chronic illnesses can experience the positive health benefits of exercise. Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh) runs a Goodwill Assistive Technology Program, which helps people with disabilities get the assistive devices, training and job accommodations they need to be independent and excel at work. These are just two of the many Goodwill programs for people with disabilities.