Employment is an important part of community inclusion for people with disabilities. Meaningful work fosters personal growth, equal opportunity, self-sufficiency, and independence. During National Disability Employment Awareness Month, The Arc is celebrating the many contributions and achievements of employees with disabilities in the local workforce and raising awareness of employment-related advantages unique to hiring people with disabilities.
Today we meet Shyanna who works at Washington Jr. H.S. as a server and dishwasher. There is so much to do in a busy kitchen that serves hundreds of Junior High school students every school day. From taking food temperatures to keeping up with the many dishes to putting food into and out of the massive ovens, Shyanna has welcomed every opportunity to learn all the elements that make the kitchen function. Her Food Handlers License gives her the knowledge and training to do her work safely. She is very aware of cross-contamination and the risk of foodborne illness as well as making accommodations for students with food allergies. Her license gives her the skills and confidence to maintain a healthy and safe food service environment.
Before Shyanna came to Washington Jr. H.S. Shyanna started her food service career at Denkmann Elementary where she spent six months learning the ropes. She got a call about an opportunity at Washington Jr. H.S. who were looking for someone who was dependable and skilled in many aspects of their big, busy kitchen. Her move happened at a critical time for Washington, because that kitchen was cooking for all the preschool classrooms in the district as well as for the junior high school students before the downtown district office kitchen was complete. “Everyone likes me,” says Shyanne of her colleagues and supervisor. “We all work together and help each other out.” In a busy kitchen, Shyanna’s great attitude and willingness to learn new skills are appreciated and help the kitchen accomplish getting the proper nutrition for growing students every day.
Working as a valued team member is secondary to Shyanna’s favorite of her job, interacting with the students. Says Shyanna, “It feels good to get out and help people.” She knows that this aspect of her job is really important. “Be nice to everyone, you don’t know what they might be going through.” Shyanna feels pride in making a difference every day in the lives of students. Nourishing bodies is what cafeteria workers do best, however, they also provide a friendly face, a listening ear, and a sense of community and belonging in the lives of busy students. Although not a formal part of her job description, Shyanna knows she’s making a positive impact on students’ well-being well beyond providing meals.
Shyanna has advice for any person with a disability who might be looking for work. “Give it a try, you will like it.” More and more employers are coming to appreciate the talent pool individuals with disabilities offer and are realizing the benefits will a loyal, committed employees. The Rock Island School District has shown its commitment to creating an inclusive and accessible workforce by hiring and supporting people like Shyanna.
During the month of October, we are showcasing inclusive workplace practices that benefit disabled workers and employers. More and more employers are trying out-of-the-box thinking to address a tight labor market. Opportunities favor creative approaches, find out how The Arc’s Community Employment Services program can benefit your team at www.arcqca.org.