What I Learned About Work from Ashley

This month is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. I want to tell you about my coworker. Her name is Ashley, and she is a woman with Down syndrome. I want to share her story during this special month because I believe she is an excellent role model for people with and without disabilities.

Ashley and I worked together for 10 years on the Employment First Florida project. The project was about including people with intellectual disabilities in the community. Ashley was hired as a co-researcher. Researchers collect information on a topic. Ashley and her team collected information about employment for people with intellectual disabilities. The information is put in reports. The reports go to people and organizations who support people with disabilities. Reports are even given to politicians to help them understand the needs of people with disabilities so they can make new laws to benefit them.

Ashley was a very important part of the research team. We cannot share information about workers with disabilities unless we ask them questions and listen to their answers.

Here are some things I want share about employment. I learned these through my 10 years as Ashley's coworker.

Everyone is an expert. We all have skills. Ashley was good at listening and talking to people. She figured it out that she could do this professionally and found a job doing it. What do you do well? Figure it out and then find a job doing it. Use the help available and don’t stop until you get what you want.

You don’t work alone. Ashley was an important team member. Everybody on the team works to get the job done. If Ashley did not do her job, I could not do mine. If I did not do my job, Ashley could not do hers. Teams also give each other help. If Ashley needed help, she asked for it. If I need help, I asked for it.

Everyone deserves respect. It doesn’t matter if you are the janitor or the president of the company, everyone should be treated equally. Ashley was respected and treated equally. If you do not feel respected, speak up. You deserve respect. If you do not get respect, find a new job.

Make friends. Ashley has a lot of friends. Everyone liked her because she is a hard worker. She is a good listener. She is a caring person. She is honest. I love Ashley because she is fun. She laughs a lot and likes to be goofy. Ashley said the best thing about work is her relationships. She said her team is like a family.

About the post author: Sheila Johnson works with researchers, policy professionals, and educators to expand and improve inclusive higher education options for people with intellectual disability (ID). As the knowledge translation associate for Think College at the Institute for Community Inclusion, she develops and delivers content that meets the interests, needs, and comprehension levels of targeted audiences, whether they be researchers, politicians, or persons with ID.