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Advocates Collaborate On Disabilities Issues

Advocates in Sioux Falls this week aim to empower people with disabilities and encourage others to embrace the talents they offer. Service providers, educators, employers and people with disabilities are collaborating to promote inclusion.

South Dakota advocates are celebrating the fact that the state has the highest rate of employment for people with disabilities in the nation. Wendy Parent-Johnson is executive director for the Center for Disabilities.

"Fifty-point-one percent of our people with disabilities in the state are employed," Parent-Johnson says. "Many, many states have as high as 75 percent unemployment rate, so we are definitely ahead there."

Parent-Johnson says some people with disabilities require accommodations to work, but she says others simply need the opportunity to do the job a little differently. She says communication is key to empowering people with disabilities and their coworkers.

"We work to help people with disabilities feel comfortable speaking up and mentioning those things to people of what they need, what would be helpful," Parent-Johnson says. "But at the same time, if people who aren’t familiar with people with disabilities would just ask, ‘Is there something I could do differently?’ or ‘I’m not understanding you; could you repeat that?’ or ‘Is there a way that I could share this with you that would be easier?’ – just asking those questions then, people are more than willing to share what would be helpful for them."

She says people can ask questions of those with disabilities just like they’d ask someone who appears able.

Parent-Johnson says stakeholders across South Dakota work together, but some people with disabilities remain isolated from their communities.

Kealey Bultena grew up in South Dakota, where her grandparents took advantage of the state’s agriculture at nap time, tricking her into car rides to “go see cows.” Rarely did she stay awake long enough to see the livestock, but now she writes stories about the animals – and the legislature and education and much more. Kealey worked in television for four years while attending the University of South Dakota. She started interning with South Dakota Public Broadcasting in September 2010 and accepted a position with television in 2011. Now Kealey is the radio news producer stationed in Sioux Falls. As a multi-media journalist, Kealey prides herself on the diversity of the stories she tells and the impact her work has on people across the state. Kealey is always searching for new ideas. Let her know of a great story! Find her on Facebook and twitter (@KealeySDPB).
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