Connecticut Dept. of Labor — Gift of Opportunity

Connecticut Dept. of Labor — Gift of Opportunity magazine spread Todays Health ad

Connecticut Dept. of Labor — Gift of Opportunity

Joe Stromondo was born with dwarfism. But dwarfism doesn’t define who he is; it is simply the name of his disability. It doesn’t take more than a five-minute conversation with the 24-year-old Stromondo, who works full time as a career advisor at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, to realize how bright and energetic he is.

Upon graduating from Trinity with a BA in philosophy two years ago, Stromondo had hoped to pursue a PhD in bioethics, with a specific focus in disability bioethics. He applied for entry to nine different PhD programs, only to be rejected by all of them. Never one to be easily discouraged, Stromondo switched his emphasis. At the urging of one of his undergraduate advisors, he applied for a position in the career services department at Trinity. He jokes that he was a perfect fit for the job because “I had a lot of experience applying to graduate schools!”

These days Stromondo spends his time helping Trinity’s students make informed choices about their educational and career goals, reviewing their applications for educational programs and critiquing their resumes and cover letters. At the end of the day, he switches focus from his students’ goals to his own as he pursues his master’s degree in public policy. In the little spare time he has, he serves as the chairman of the state independent living council’s committee on higher education outreach, and also chairs the advocacy committee for the national organization Little People of America.

“Employment is a huge issue for people with disabilities,” says Stromondo. “Understanding how employment issues work for most people enables me to form opinions on policy and to advocate more effectively for myself and others with disabilities.” He feels that if people with dwarfism are seen performing successfully in the workplace, common misperceptions will change.

Stromondo was fortunate to find an employer who did not focus on his disability, but instead saw his enormous potential. Many other job seekers with disabilities are not so lucky. It is this reality that led the Connecticut Department of Labor to launch the Gift of Opportunity Symposium.

In 2004, representatives from the Connecticut Business Leadership Network, the Governor’s Committee on the Employment of People with Disabilities and the Youth Leadership Forum met with the Connecticut Commissioner of Labor. They had all experienced difficulty getting employers interested in even talking about hiring workers with disabilities, never mind actually doing so. All parties agreed that people with disabilities are frequently overlooked as a valuable, talented and all-too-often untapped resource. To help turn the tide, they proposed a new forum that would bring together a wide range of Connecticut employers to explore how hiring people with disabilities could benefit their businesses.

Out of these discussions came the Gift of Opportunity Symposium, now an annual event that provides multiple opportunities for Connecticut businesses. Employers can observe panel discussions with companies that are active in hiring workers with disabilities, hear personal stories from the employees themselves and learn about organizations that support businesses in working successfully with employees who have disabilities. A question-and-answer session encourages employers to present all the questions they have wanted to know but may have been embarrassed to ask—about accommodations, transportation, universal design in offices, recruitment of workers with disabilities, requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), etc. Another integral part of the symposium is a disability resource fair, where employers can find qualified workers with disabilities and learn tools for keeping them.

“We want to dispel some of the myths about what is involved in hiring and retaining qualified workers with disabilities,” explains Bridget Kemmling, Connecticut’s equal opportunity officer. “We want to show why employing people with disabilities makes good business sense. We also want to take some of the mystery out of the process for companies by connecting them with people and resources that can help them address common barriers.”

The real challenge for the Connecticut Department of Labor was developing a strategy to get employers to the table to join this conversation. They first tapped into their relationships with 17 chambers of commerce from across Connecticut, as well as the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, to help market the event to Connecticut employers.

The results so far have been impressive. The first Gift of Opportunity Symposium attracted 225 business representatives, with the number growing in subsequent years. Companies of all sizes attend, including some corporate giants. These businesses represent all facets of commerce and industry, including hospitals, banks, large retailers and manufacturers.

Jane Rath of Earnworks, an organization funded through the U. S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy to help companies recruit and screen talented applicants with disabilities to fill their job vacancies, travels around the country promoting employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Rath was a panelist at the last two Gift of Opportunity Symposiums and remarks, “It was great to be at an event with such a terrific employer turnout. I am impressed with what Connecticut has been able to accomplish in only a few years.
After a successful inaugural event in 2004, the Department of Labor wanted to....Continued in ABILITY Magazine

by Mike Bartley

For questions about the Gift of Opportunity Symposium,
contact Mike Bartley at 800.263.6513

ABILITY Magazine
Other articles in the Ed Begley issue include Senator Harkin — Securing America’s Energy Future; Humor Therapy— Don’t Go There; Recipes — Healthy Drinks;Rights or Wrongs — Legal Stories From DLRC; Elegy For A Disease — A Personal History of Polio; Learning Katrina’s Lessons — Disaster Preparedness; Healthy Environment — Steps We All Can Take; Healing Our Soldiers — Hawaii’s MRPU; The Secret Vote — Making Voting Accessible; Book Excerpt — Widening the Circle; Events and Conferences...subscribe

Excerpts from the Ed Begley issue:

Ed Begley Jr. and Rachelle Carson — Interview

Service Animals — Barking up the Right Tree

Connecticut Dept. of Labor — Gift of Opportunity

Dystonia — Deep Brain Stimulation and Medtronic

Sound Technology — For the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

Better Off Dead — Suicidality

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