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Oswald Mondejar is being honored as a Disability Employment Champion of Change.
As an immigrant from Cuba, my mother cherished the American virtues of freedom, independence, and opportunity. She told my sister and me that, in this country, anything is possible. The honor of being selected as a Champion of Change by the White House is proof of that. It’s so humbling because I know that I’m merely representing the work and voices of so many others who paved the way.
Growing up with a limb difference, I learned from an early age that my biggest challenge would always be overcoming others perceived “limitations” of what I could and could not do. There’s no place that another’s perception about your abilities has a greater impact than in the workplace. I got my first job at age 13, and seeing my name on a paycheck for the work I’d done was empowering. A job wasn’t simply about survival; it provided dignity, camaraderie with coworkers, and a fully independent life.
Fast forward to a career spent in Human Resources, and what I have seen is that people with disabilities are seldom given a fair chance to show what they can do. To many employers, the workplace is full of impediments (physical barriers, policies and, yes, attitudes), that make it “too much trouble” to hire them. While we’ve made great progress, there’s more work to be done.
Unemployment and underemployment for people with disabilities remain incredibly high, and that is a call to action for all of us. Our charge is to seek out and find creative solutions to these old challenges.
Working at Spaulding Rehabilitation Network (SRN) has been a great opportunity. At SRN, I have helped develop the “Working Partners” program, a first of its kind public/private partnership focusing on providing people with disabilities the skills and support they need to join the workforce and improve their overall quality of life. Like any worthy endeavor, it takes an intrepid group of collaborators to be successful, and I am incredibly fortunate to partner with my colleagues from Partners HealthCare and the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC) to make this all possible. Through Working Partners, qualified candidates with disabilities work directly with an embedded MRC employment specialist and Spaulding’s hiring managers to navigate the employment process with the ultimate goal of job placement at SRN or within Partners HealthCare.
But Working Partners does more than provide assistance with finding a job. With their new positions, candidates are empowered to take more control over their lives. They feel the great sense of pride that comes with entering or re-entering the work force and contributing their talents to something far greater than themselves.
While many businesses and agencies speak about diversity or inclusion, much of this talk is hollow. In order to truly progress, leading companies must see what efforts like Working Partners are; just good business. The productivity and talent that people with disabilities can contribute is only limited by our own perceptions of what is possible.
Oswald “Oz” Mondejar is the Senior Vice President for Mission and Advocacy for Partners Continuing Care, the non-acute care division of Partners HealthCare based in Boston, Massachusetts.