As California’s Agriculture Secretary, I get a lot of inspiration from the determination, independence and accomplishments of our farmers and ranchers. I recently found inspiration in another group of people who are no less determined to be successful and independent: employees (and prospective employees) who have disabilities.
Each October, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) hosts a Disability Awareness Fair at one of its Sacramento-area locations to inform its employees, managers and supervisors about the capabilities and contributions of job candidates and employees who have disabilities. This year’s event was held at the department’s Plant Pest Diagnostics Center, which is part of our department’s laboratory complex.
For many prospective employees who have disabilities, gaining job training and work experience can be a significant hurdle. This year’s featured presenters were teachers and students from a program called Project Search, which works with employers like Kaiser to provide internships that give young people an opportunity to transition into the working world. The students are guided by experienced trainers who fully understand that a disability need not be a barrier for willing, capable, energetic workers.
It was inspiring to see these students take advantage of their potential and get on the road to full, independent employment. We invited them to consider the many exciting and challenging careers that CDFA and the agricultural community have to offer, and our staff gave them a tour of the lab’s insect collection to show them the kind of work our scientists and technicians do every day.
At the fair, several vendors provided information about various accommodations and services that help disabled employees achieve their full potential on the job, from service dogs and ergonomic chairs to transportation, communication and information technology. The range of empowering devices and options expands each year.
My thanks go to the CDFA Disability Advisory Committee for organizing this annual event – and to the students and staff of Project Search for providing enough inspiration to last well beyond National Disability Employment Awareness Month.