You might know it is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and I was offered the opportunity to share some information with you. I manage the American Foundation for the Blind’s CareerConnect program. AFB CareerConnect is a career exploration, job seeking skills, navigating the employment process, and e-mentoring web program. You might guess that I am quite passionate about employment and the transition from school to work. In my work with AFB CareerConnect, I have been able to connect with fabulous and inspiring individuals who are blind or visually impaired. One of the coolest and one of my personal favorites has been Erik Weihenmayer, world-renowned adventurer and a man who has summited the highest peak on each continent. He has navigated the Colorado River the length of the Grand Canyon in a solo-kayak. Just in case you didn’t get it, he is blind too.
The reason I wanted to bring this up to you all, is that Erik Weheinmayer founded an organization called No Barriers and an event, the No Barriers Summit, and Erik is the living embodiment of the No Barriers Lifestyle. Erik believes that we can overcome our obstacles through our planning, attitude, confidence, and community. I had the great opportunity to attend the No Barriers Summit this past July to provide clinics for youth and adults. I was truly in awe of the programming, inspiration, and clinics provided at the event. The event is much more than a sports camp, it is a university experience of a higher level. You are provided lectures from true innovators from around the world. There happens to be a large dash of athletic and recreational pursuits provided and adapted for the needs of the individual. If you are willing to try it, they are willing to attempt to adapt it.
Each day youth, families, and adults push themselves physically and in their thinking about their own perceived or real obstacles. I was able to see the growth in the participants from start to finish, and I vowed that I would spread the word about the event. But, don’t take it from me. I reached out to get Erik’s input on how you can bring your child into a No Barriers Lifestyle. This is just one step toward self-confidence, motivation, and breaking down the door to success in life and employment.
FamilyConnect: What advice would you give families to get their children involved in activities? Erik Weihenmayer: I think that we grew up and evolved as human beings. There were small groups, and we banded together to survive. People are meant to be part of teams and clubs. Blind people and persons with disabilities need to do this too. They should not just be sitting and using a computer. It is a fundamental human trait or need. You have to be part of something.
FamilyConnect: What is the overlying purpose of the No Barriers Summit? Erik Weihenmayer: When we think about breaking through barriers, it is not just a motivational slogan. It brings together real tools and real experiences to help us break through barriers. We asked ourselves, “What can we all relate to and learn from.” We bring in speakers and real life human examples of people who were overwhelmed. We provide clinics that test your limits, and they are surrounded by people who have all broken down barriers and searching for the same thing.
Joe Strechay: National Disability Employment Awareness Month is all about creating awareness specific to the employment of individuals with disabilities. The No Barriers Summit assists individuals in building the much needed self-confidence and drive to push past perceived or real obstacles. Parents and families have an opportunity to provide their children with the most experiences possible. The more comfortable youth are with who they are as an individual and a person with a disability, the better off they will be for their path toward employment. The employment process is all about bringing that level of comfort and understanding to your interactions with employers. At the No Barriers Summit, I spoke about “the elephant in the room.” Every time I walk into a room with employers, I bring an elephant. The elephant is my differences, and it is my job to make that employer comfortable with those differences. My blindness is a difference, and I have to address that elephant with employers. If I am not comfortable addressing my own disability, an employer will not be comfortable with me. Further, an employer will typically not hire someone they are not comfortable with.
The No Barriers Summit brings a different understanding, and provides us the opportunity to push our own perceived or real barriers. Take the time to push your obstacles to the side, and read more about the No Barriers Summit.
No Barriers Summit Information
Where: Copper Mountain, CO
When: June 23 – 26, 2016