By Tatiana Peralta

For employees at WORK, Inc., advocating is a privilege they don’t take lightly. Like so many in our network, the WORK, Inc.’s team works tirelessly on advocacy efforts that include education and legislation. Their work has made them strong allies in SourceAmerica’s efforts to employ people with disabilities nationwide. 

We recently had the chance to catch up with Andrea Mitsch Cook, Assistant Vice President of Communications at WORK, Inc. She’s spent her entire career in both the nonprofit and corporate world breaking down barriers for people with disabilities.  

Education and exposure 

For Andrea, advocacy goes beyond policy. Throughout her career, she’s been a strong advocate for workforce inclusion and integrated work environments, changing perceptions wherever she worked. Through her journey she’s noticed that when managers integrate people with barriers to the workplace, barriers start to come down. Team members realize that people with different abilities can do the job and do it well. 

WORK, Inc. follows the same model that Andrea has seen success in. They often encourage potential professionals with disabilities to tour their job site and meet the team before starting. Once the employer interacts with the job candidates, their eyes are opened to the potential and talents of that individual. 

Organizations like WORK, Inc. and SourceAmerica use two important pieces of any advocacy effort to show the abilities of professionals with disabilities: education and exposure

Current efforts

WORK, Inc.’s primary goals are to be seen, show up and rally. Part of Andrea’s job is to attend events with the organization’s legislative group to talk about the importance of employment for people with disabilities. The team prides themselves in making connections and ensuring they are visible to employers, legislators and families. 

Currently WORK, Inc. is working with State Senator Nick Collins and Representative David Biele and Dan Hunt to pass legislation stating:

“Any contract issued for services in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts or any political subdivision there-in that receives appropriated funds from the legislature of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts shall employ up to 10% of individuals hired within that contract be individuals with disabilities. The 10% will be achieved over five years, increasing each year by 2% to allow contractor to ramp up the number of employees with disabilities. This bill has received a dynamite amount of support for legislatures and business leaders throughout the state.“

Many companies may not realize they are already meeting that requirement. Because some employees are concerned about stigmas, they don’t always disclose when they have a disability, leaving their employers in the dark. 

Beyond state government advocacy efforts, WORK, Inc. employees are always thinking of new ways to get themselves out there. No matter where they are or what they are doing, they talk about their work and the services they have available. 

SourceAmerica’s role 

WORK, Inc.’s. mission is to ensure individuals with disabilities have the opportunity to participate in community life via meaningful work. Through our organization’s joint advocacy efforts in government and public education, we can employ more professionals with disabilities nationwide. 

One of Andrea’s favorite parts about WORK, Inc.’s relationship with SourceAmerica is the Grassroots Advocacy Conference in Washington D.C. Through this event, individuals who work in the AbilityOne Program get to network and interact with other professionals who have similar jobs. In addition, they become self-advocates and have a chance to use their voices to speak up about the issues that are directly impacting them. 

SourceAmerica gives self-advocates opportunities to learn about best practices for successful advocacy and allows them to put the lessons to work when they meet their legislators. In turn, the self-advocates gain a sense of pride as they find their voices and develop skills. 

SourceAmerica and member nonprofits like WORK, Inc. enjoy collaborating on shared policy goals, spreading employment initiatives and legislative ideas on the federal, state and local level. If you’re interested in partnering with us, contact Shari Walton at swalton@sourceamerica.org

Learn more about WORK, Inc. and the opportunities they provide to professionals with disabilities.