“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 ([email protected]). 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 protected]).
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.”
NextGen Spotlight: Tasha Bolden
Willette Natasha Bolden – Tasha - navigated life for 40 years as an African American lesbian woman. However, when she also became a person with a disability, her professional story took a new and fulfilling path.
NextGen Spotlight: Grayson Shor
Grayson Shor is a graduate student in the Masters of Arts in International Affairs (MAIA)at George Washington University. He will graduate this spring when he returns from Taiwan where he’s on a U.S. Government fellowship studying at the National Taiwan University.
NextGen Spotlight: Taylor Mickelson
Through our signature education initiatives, we aim to help businesses develop enduring leaders for a more disability inclusive workplace. They are NextGen Leaders. Learn more about how the programs have impacted the life and career of one recent program alumna, Taylor Mickelson.
NextGen Spotlight: Isaac “Ike” Tallerine
Though Ike Tallerine was born with vision disabilities, his parents had the same high expectations for him as they did for his eight siblings.
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.