Finding work in the community can be a challenge for people with disabilities, but a positive attitude and knowing how to find the right resources can help potential employees and employers alike. David Powell, the keynote speaker at the 2019 Disability Mentoring Day Conference, is living proof that it is possible for anyone to live a positive, fun and meaningful life if they possess the willingness to do so.
He didn’t always feel that way. Powell, now 33 years old, was born without hands and with malformed legs. According to the biography on his website, davidpowellspeaking.com, as a child in New Orleans, La., he got around in an electric wheelchair using his feet as his hands. After the separation of his parents, he started walking with the help of prosthetics but then had to learn to use his arms to do everything he’d done with his feet. As a freshman in high school, Powell lost his mother to a drug overdose and eventually fell into his own dark hole of drug addiction and alcoholism until he was 29. Over time, and after a move to Salina, Kansas, he overcame those struggles and is now fulfilling one of his lifetime dreams of being a motivational speaker to help people.
For a conference filled with people who have disabilities, and with parents, students, educators and employers, Powell was willing to answer any question about living day to day with a disability.
“I wanted to show how society tends to judge people with disabilities and if you don’t stand up for yourself you’ll get swept under the rug,” he said. “You’re capable of anything you want to do.”
In Powell’s case, he found ways to work without arms of legs. “So what’s your excuse?” he asks.
During a demonstration of how he does everyday activities, Powell pulled out his cellphone and texted to his audience, using his nose. “I just adapt to what I’m doing,” he said.
An audience member asked what has been the biggest challenge he had to deal with.
“Nine times out of 10, when I thought something was going to be difficult, it was in my head,” he answered. “If you really want something in life, you’re going to figure it out.”
Disability Mentoring Day is a national effort to help and inspire those with disabilities to seek opportunities in the workforce. This is the 20th year that the special day has been held each October during National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
For the conference held at the Great Bend Events Center, the day included representatives from Kansas Department of Children and Families Vocational Rehabilitation, Rosewood Services, Sunflower Diversified Services, Kansas Workforce One, Barton Community College, and the Center For Counseling & Consultation.
Rosewood Employment Specialist Frankie Peltzer said two awards were also presented at the conference, to businesses that have hired people with disabilities. Clara Barton Hospital received a local award and Casey’s Region 9034 received a national award.
“Casey’s and Clara Barton have never been discouraged by hiring people with disabilities,” Peltzer said. “If someone doesn’t work out, they don’t give up.” Clara Barton has provided work assessments if see if people are ready to work in certain jobs in the community, and Casey’s has employed several people at both stores in Great Bend. “They’ve been a tremendous partner,” she said.