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DHS News October 2012

 Promoting Career Development for Students with Disabilities

On the third Wednesday of every October, thousands of private, nonprofit, government and educational organizations around the world open their doors to students with disabilities for Disability Mentoring Day. The event, which coincides with National Disability Employment Awareness Month, is an opportunity for the students to explore careers and be mentored by professionals in a variety of fields.

Allegheny County government was among the participating organizations, hosting 13 students from Penn Hills and North Hills high schools. On October 17, the students gathered at the courthouse building for a welcome and an opportunity to learn more about the many visionaries and innovators that came from Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. The youth were then divided into smaller groups to visit a few county offices. Four students were matched with Judy Barricella, director of Disability Connection in the Office of Community Relations (OCR).

The youth hosted by Judy were exposed to some of the challenges that people living with physical disabilities may face. They were given a manual wheelchair and asked to use it to navigate the elevator to get downstairs, travel down one of downtown’s many uneven sidewalks, and cross a street – all while trying to avoid the many pedestrians. Judy also emphasized the importance of People First Language and not bullying others because they are different.

“Many of these youth do not have personal experience with using a wheelchair,” said Judy. “I really wanted to give them the opportunity to experience some of the challenges that our consumers face and that we in Disability Connection hear about on a daily basis. I hope that this experience helps them to be more understanding of others in the future.”

After spending time at their respective County offices, the youth returned to the courthouse for mock interviews and the opportunity to meet with County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

Judy added, “We have seen that the employment rate for people with disabilities is dismal. Events like this allow us to expose students with disabilities to the opportunities that are out there and to give them some of the skills needed to obtain these jobs. I hope that the experiences and knowledge that these youth gathered today will help them to thrive in the future.” 

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