“One thing that’s super important is that we’re formed by people with disabilities and we’re the only organization that’s federally mandated to be 51% or more people with disabilities at all different levels at the board, management, and staff levels,” said Dr. Kimberly Gibson, the executive director of disABILITY LINK.
According to Gibson in an interview for Good Morning America, more than 27% of employed people with disabilities lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Gibson felt many employers believed the benefits of retaining employees with disabilities outweighed the costs, and much of the disability community has since struggled finding employment.
Through disABILITY LINK, many Georgians with disabilities found an organization that has provided an environment in which to achieve personal growth and feel comfortable in sharing their workforce experiences. “I think it makes an impact because individuals with disabilities can come in here and have shared experiences and better maneuver their lives because they’re able to compare trials and tribulations, whereas [staff] without a disability may not necessarily have that perspective,” said Gibson.
However, the staff at disABILITY LINK also maintain that those with disabilities can pursue their goals if given necessary life coaching. “Our concept is that we don’t want to create a dependency on us,” said Gibson. “It’s like they’re driving the car, they decide where they want to go, and we’re supporting them with directions and resources to get there.”
Gibson told a story of a young adult helped by disABILITY LINK who, when asked what he wanted to do with his life, responded by saying his mother had told him all he would ever be able to do was collect social security. Through funding, disABILITY LINK was able to give him an opportunity to attend a National Council on Independent Living Conference in Washington, DC.
After attending the conference and meeting many other people his age who were employed, the young man changed his mind and expressed interest in working. “He told us, ‘I talked to all those kids and they’re all out doing a job. Just because they have a disability, doesn’t mean they have to stay at home.’” Provided with independent living skills training, he was much more confident in starting the process.
After receiving help from disABILITY LINK, the young man was able to find employment at a warehouse and develop his own social life. In an email, he thanked disABILITY LINK for showing him there was more to life than a disability check. “Those are the things that we target. We try to prepare people for whatever goals they want in their life, we give them the resources and information, and they can make their own decision,” said Gibson.
Dr. Gibson has a disability herself. A former independent living specialist, Gibson joined disABILITY LINK in Atlanta in 2013 and has worked as executive director since then. She is personally familiar with exercising advocacy, which she also helps disABILITY LINK promote in the community.
“I come from the old days where we did a lot of civil disobedience to get to where we’re at with the ADA,” said Gibson. When disABILITY LINK moved to Tucker in 2014, one of the first things Gibson did was advocate for safety accommodations for people with disabilities. While advocacy works, there’s many forms of it. Gibson explained, “Sometimes advocacy is a nice, pleasant letter. Sometimes it’s civil disobedience because the issue is being brushed under the carpet.”
One advocacy topic disABILITY LINK highlights is creating accommodations in the workplace and a link between employers and those with disabilities. Employees with disabilities are often underestimated in their work abilities, but disABILITY LINK has done extensive work in eliminating the stigma that workers with disabilities are inferior to their non-disabled peers. Later on, many workers aided by disABILITY LINK were praised as the best employees in their workplace.
An important part of disABILITY LINK’s process is preparation. “We don’t place people into positions that they’re not prepared to work at. We place them where their goals and ambitions are,” Gibson explained.
Despite the variety of the disability community, disABILITY LINK has helped its local market immensely, providing almost 14,000 information referral services and training 1,433 people in employment skills last year. These numbers show the tremendous outreach disABILITY LINK has achieved within its community.
Visit disabilitylink.org to find out more about disABILITY LINK’s projects across Georgia.