Self-Advocate Profile: Melissa Gates

By SourceAmerica Staff 06/13/2022
2022 Grassroots Advocate Melissa Gates

Everyone has a story. When self-advocates with disabilities share their personal experiences with lawmakers, co-workers, and the public, they help raise awareness about the importance of creating career opportunities for this talented – yet underemployed – segment of the workforce. Meet Melissa Gates!

For 20 years, Melissa Gates tried unsuccessfully to get a government job. Then, she connected with an opportunity in the AbilityOne® Program.

Now working for nonprofit agency Melwood, Melissa is assigned as a secretary in a federal agency's Engineering Department. "AbilityOne was the step that helped me get where I want to be," she said. Melissa's day-to-day activities involve answering phones, greeting people, managing requests, delivering packages and mail, helping prepare a weekly newsletter letter for managers, and submitting supply requisitions.

"AbilityOne was the best thing that could have happened to me," Melissa said. "It took me over 20 years, and it annoyed me when people would only look at my disability. AbilityOne made it easier in interviews. My disability is physical and visual, and it is the preconception that people have, that people with a disability can't do anything. I may do things a little slower, but I can get things done."

In her employment journey, Melissa went through the vocation rehabilitation system, which did not provide her with the personal attention she received from Melwood. Within six months of finding Melwood, Melissa found a job she wanted.

Like other 2022 SourceAmerica® Grassroots Advocacy Conference participants, Melissa has a strong message for policymakers. "There are so many people out there like me, and we need to get the word out more about the AbilityOne Program."

Want to learn more about advocating for career opportunities for people with disabilities? Email or visit our Employment Advocacy webpage.