For Joe Steffy, proprietor of Poppin Joe’s™ Gourmet Kettle Korn, there was not a second thought as to what he wanted to do for a career. A fixture in Louisburg, Kansas for his popcorn creations, Steffy has been a small business owner for six years. Steffy, who happens to have Down syndrome and autism, continues to defy low expectations and show the world that people with Down syndrome can work.
Last Thursday, Steffy appeared before the US House Small Business Committee, chaired by Congressman Steve Chabot (R-OH) and testified at a hearing entitled, “Help Wanted: Small Business Providing Opportunities for All.”
Our organization, the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS), the largest nonprofit organization representing individuals with Down syndrome and their families, recently launched a new employment campaign – #DSWORKS™ with a simple goal – breakdown barriers to employment and create meaningful jobs. We are working to educate the general public about how individuals with Down syndrome are employable and should be included in all aspects of the work force, encourage businesses of different shapes and sizes to invest in hiring people with Down syndrome and increase the number of opportunities for our population to work in meaningful and competitive employment settings.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, only 19.5% of people with disabilities participate in the labor force, as opposed to 68.2% of people without disabilities. NDSS is advocating for a new bill, the ABLE to Work Act (H.R. 4795), which amends the popular Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act (P.L. 113-295) to allow people with Down syndrome and other disabilities to save their own paycheck (up to the poverty line in an ABLE account) beyond what other family members and financial sources can contribute, without the risk of losing their benefits. NDSS is also working to champion legislation that would decouple the disability population from the poor throughout many archaic laws.
For us, employment is a human rights issue, and we don’t stop until every adult with Down syndrome has access to employment opportunities that support their own hopes, dreams and aspirations.
NDSS commends Chabot for his leadership on these important issues and for highlighting the need to create more opportunities to get individuals with disabilities into the workforce. At NDSS, we know #DSWORKS™ and we are grateful for the House Small Business Committee for showing the world people with Down syndrome and other disabilities are ready, willing and ABLE.