“Don’t be deterred by low expectations”
Disability:IN highlights various young leaders with disabilities in the NextGen Leader Spotlight Series.
The featured student in this story was involved in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP)’s Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP). Disability:IN, through an alliance with ODEP, sources over 50% of the students for the NextGen Leaders Initiative from ODEP’s WRP.
If you are a corporate partner (or potential partner), and would like more information our Disability:IN’s NextGen Leaders, please contact Liz (firstname.lastname@example.org). If you are a young leader with a disability, and would like more information on the Mentorship Exchange or the Talent Accelerator, please contact Keri (email@example.com).
WRP & RPMP Create a Path to a Dream First Job
In 2016, Afomeya Mekonnen was in her last year at Gallaudet University as a biology major and a certified pharmacy technician with a dream to become a pharmacist. As a person who is deaf, Afomeya communicates well using ASL interpreters and oral methods. But during several college internships, she encountered supervisors and co-workers who discouraged her from becoming a pharmacist since they could not believe that she would be able to communicate effectively with customers.
When Afomeya decided to interview for the Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP), multiple doors started to open. She was recruited for the Disability:IN Mentorship Exchange through which she was matched with a mentor from a major pharmaceutical company. Through weekly Skype meetings with her mentor, Afomeya refined her resume, practiced job interviewing skills, learned how to productively do online job searches and planned the best path to reach her ultimate goal of becoming a pharmacist. But most of all, she received encouragement and confidence.
Through the WRP program, Afomeya received an interview with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The interview went well and the interviewer provided excellent information on career building.
EPA offered a summer internship offer, but as she was graduating in May she decided to apply for the Disability:IN Talent Accelerator. It was at the RLA that Afomeya was interviewed by representatives from CVS Health and offered a Pharmacy Tech position in Washington, D.C. In October 2016, Afomeya at the age of 24 started her first job.
Afomeya states that she loves her job, is passionate about her work and loves her customers. She successfully performs all the Pharm Tech job functions including those for drop off, production and pick-up. Her co-workers are naturally supportive of each other and understand and appreciate her communication methods. They simply speak a little more slowly.
She is continuing her journey toward her ultimate career goal – becoming a pharmacist. She applied to pharmacy schools and was accepted to one in California. But she decided that she was not ready to move that far away from her family in the DC area, and is looking at pursuing a Master’s degree in Pharmacy and Toxicology while continuing to work at CVS Health.
Afomeya would like to share her journey with other young people with disabilities. She urges them to apply for programs and jobs that they want and not to be deterred by other people’s low expectations or unconscious biases. Her advice to employers is to approach job applicants with disabilities as all the employers at the Talent Accelerator, including CVS Health, did – they saw beyond stigma and focused on talent and not on disability.
According to David Casey, Vice President of Diversity “CVS Health is committed to creating and sustaining a fully inclusive workplace culture that minimizes the “dis” in disability by educating, equipping and empowering our colleagues with information and resources. Afomeya Mekonnen was given an employment opportunity with CVS Health and with her hard work and determination she soared.”
Student Spotlight: Chris Gaines
Chris wants students with disabilities to appreciate disability in the context of intersectionality. As a Black man with a disability, he has had two societal challenges and is proud to share both selves.
Student Spotlight – Danny Tanchez
The Mentorship Exchange Program connects students like Daniel Tanchez to experts that can provide professional growth and development, and social and economic opportunities.
“I believe programs like the Talent Accelerator will help breakdown the stigmas around disability…”
While Bryan believes most major companies recognize the importance of diversity in the workplace, he feels actively investing in programs such as the Talent Accelerator underscores the commitment to diversity and inclusion.
“Become part of a group that is a great source for networking and launching a spectacular career…”
The Disability:IN Mentorship Exchange connects students like Paul Trevino to experts that can provide professional growth and development, and social and economic opportunities.
“Hannah loves working with a group of people dedicated to promoting disability rights…”
Hannah recently accepted a position as Program Coordinator for the Disability:IN, where she gets to work on a number of projects. As a NextGen Leader alum, Hannah’s assistance with the NextGen Leaders Initiatives will be invaluable.