Double Booked: Responsibility Is A Good Thing
By Neil Jacobson
Imagine going into your 9-month old son’s room to find him sitting atop his 5.5 feet tall dresser adjacent to his crib. Imagine you and your wife sitting in your wheelchairs staring up at this smiling boy knowing there’s no way either of you are able to reach your son to get him down from there. What do you do? Well, after gasping for air, my wife, Denise, looked at me and said, “Well, if David was able to get up there by himself, he should be able to get down by himself.” Sure enough, with just a little coaxing from us, he went on his stomach and slid safely back into his crib. The look of success on David’s face was precious!
A few years later, when David was 4, we had a friend of his over for lunch. The friend was the same age as David. We had a snack that day. As was normal in our house, David got the cookies from the cabinet and the milk from the fridge. David proceeded to pour the milk into glasses for all of us. His friend was wide-eyed. “Wow,” he said, “Your parents let you pour milk! That is so cool!” Little did the friend realize that with our disabilities, neither Denise or I could pour very well, and that David had been doing so since he was about 2. The look of pride and success on David’s face when he heard his friend praise him was unforgettable.
As years go by, it seems that children have less and less responsibilities. This seems especially true for youth with disabilities. More often than not, they learn how to accept assistance, but rarely how they are needed and what their responsibilities may be.
I was fortunate to have the values of hard work and independence instilled in my life from an early age. As a child with cerebral palsy, my parents did all they could to foster my self-reliance. My mother woke me each morning and would insist I dress myself, even though it took two hours to do so. At night, I’d get two dinners. One dinner I had to feed myself; the other I was provided assistance to ensure I got enough to eat.
These approaches may sound extreme, and today I know that a key to independent living is knowing when and how to get help. But for my parents, work was, quite literally, a life and death matter. As Holocaust survivors, they had seen how those who could not work were considered worthless, and were the first to perish in ghettos and concentration camps. They showed me that determination and perseverance are the key to achievement and that I had a responsibility to do well.
For me, the payoffs have been enormous. Despite my obvious disability — I can’t sit upright, I have involuntary movements and my speech impairment is significant — for nearly 30 years I built a career at Wells Fargo, rising to senior vice president of information technology. Work gave me purpose. Work made me proud. Work allowed me to gain economic independence and build a secure financial future.
I believe that it is important for us to instill the values of determination and perseverance in our children and set the example that they too can gain economic independence whether or not they have disabilities. In my retirement, I am working on reforming Social Security policies to encourage youth with disabilities to enter the workforce and gain independence despite the challenges they may face. The current Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Program has many work disincentives that make it difficult for youth with disabilities to go to work and still receive services they need. The proposed program, CareerACCESS, will be created by changes in federal policy aimed at significantly increasing the employment rate of people with disabilities. The program expects young adults with disabilities ages 18 through 30 to work. CareerACCESS will provide required support and services recognizing that disability benefits are offsets to the high cost of disability rather than subsidies for the inability to work.
As we go about our ever-increasingly busy life, let’s not shy away from giving our children the responsibilities they need and deserve. Responsibility is a good thing!
Neil Jacobson is the founder and CEO of Abilicorp, a business innovation consulting company. Neil retired from Wells Fargo Bank as a Senior Vice President. Over the past 40 years Neil has been an advocate and change agent for the economic development of people with disabilities. Most of this advocacy has been as a Board member and past Chair of the World Institute on Disability (WID). He now chairs WID’s Center for Economic Growth (CEG). Neil received a BS in Mathematics from Hofstra University and a MBA at Golden Gate University.
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