Portland State’s Disability Advocacy Cultural Association is working on a new program that would aid students with disabilities in getting jobs on campus. While on the outset the program’s aim is to teach the students with disabilities to present themselves to employers in the best possible light, it goes beyond the realm of the workplace, stressing self-empowerment through a system of support, advocacy and mentoring.
Portland State’s Disability Advocacy Cultural Association is working on a new program that would aid students with disabilities in getting jobs on campus.
While on the outset the program’s aim is to teach the students with disabilities to present themselves to employers in the best possible light, it goes beyond the realm of the workplace, stressing self-empowerment through a system of support, advocacy and mentoring.
“Congenitally disabled people have a sense that no matter what you do you’re not enough,” said Disability Advocacy Cultural Association (DACA) coordinator Michael Malinowski. “The program incorporates tools that could be used to level the playing field.”
DACA is now in preliminary talks with the Portland State Disability Research Center to help establish the program. The job advisory program is the brainchild of Malinowski, who himself has dealt with dyslexia since birth and is an active propagator of disabled rights.
“We want to increase the on-campus footprint so that more people recognize that there are disabled people at school too,” said Malinowski.
Malinowski’s program differs from others like it because it is based on peer counseling, straight from members of the disabled community who have been successful in the workplace. A key part of the program’s counseling core is working to help people recognize how to develop their self-esteem and better see the value in themselves and their own opinions, Malinowski said, rather than to always listen to authority.
“Basically the idea is to get together and talk about strategies. You don’t have to take what employers say-you can reframe it, which enhances self-esteem and a sense of self. That leads to negotiation power in an interview,” Malinowski said.
In addition to peer counseling, the program also aims to form a mentoring-based organization of employers and entrepreneurs that are disabled or have had disabilities, as well as employers that want to support people with disabilities in the workplace.
“We’re looking to bridge the gap between disabled people and employers,” Malinowski said. “We’re trying to get as many people [who are] connected to the disabled community involved as we can.”
But esteem and employment are only parts of the larger plan, as Malinowski said he hopes that the program could bring together local, state and federal parties on rights for people with disabilities initiatives.
“It’s like comparing the disabled rights movement to the civil rights movement,” Malinowski said. “We’re going to start to talk to groups outside of PSU and looking at trying to advocate for people with disability so they can live more fulfilling lives.”
In preparation for the program, Malinowski has been gathering information from students and organizations about corporations that have shown a positive, responsible attitude about hiring people with disabilities. He said he wants to find out which companies are worthwhile for applicants with disabilities. The goal is to change minds, according to Malinowski.
“There are companies that don’t have a good track record. We want to become allies with them,” he said. “We want to talk with them in friendly, non-threatening ways, and figure out ways they can change policies so that everyone gets a fair shake.”
Malinowksi is also working to get advocates of the program more involved not only locally, but also statewide and nationally. To do their own part, Malinowski and DACA are planning for increased lobbying in Salem, investigation into further funding through federal and private grants, and closer scrutiny of state and federal laws.
“We can’t get anything changed without looking at the laws,” Malinowski said.
While nothing is set in stone, Malinowski said he is optimistic about the program’s future.
“We are trying to get the university more interested in disability issues. It’s a slow-going and a painful process, but we’ve got a lot of information collected,” Malinowski said. “We’re already looking for a grant writer. This is not at the beginning stages.”