From the Assembly Line to the Capitol: Self-Advocate Preps for Grassroots Advocacy Conference
By Kerry McGinley
Chad Weimer knows when he comes to work, he's making an important difference. For 13 years, he's been a basic assembler at Crossroads Industrial Services, a division of Easter Seals Crossroads in Indianapolis. The nonprofit employs people with disabilities like Weimer in a range of manufacturing roles.
Weimer produced numerous AbilityOne identifier panel kits over the course of a decade, which the U.S. Army and Marines use on vehicles to prevent friendly fire strikes on the soldiers riding inside. He sewed straps that were used to mount panels to vehicles. Weimer knows his work helped save lives of men and women in uniform.
"I was honored," he said. "That was my favorite job ever. I loved that job. It was just awesome."
Weimer's personal and professional confidence has increased over the course of his time at Crossroads, said Anne Traub, human resources manager. He's not as shy as he used to be, to the point that he'll dance and grin on the assembly line as tours come through, she said. He was recently featured in a video produced by Zoo Fans, whose tubular fans are manufactured at Crossroads by Weimer and his colleagues. And after years of relying on public transportation, he recently obtained his driver's license.
"His job experience was probably limited when he first came to work for us," she said. "I think that he understands the perspective of being a little unsure about what he could contribute versus now looking at what he has contributed and being very proud of that."
Weimer is more comfortable on an assembly line than speaking publicly. But he's willing to brave his shyness to once again make a difference on the job. This time it will be speaking up as a self-advocate meeting with Indiana lawmakers as part of SourceAmerica's Grassroots Advocacy Conference June 13-16.
He said he's "kind of scared," but he knows it's important for legislators to meet the people they affect through their legislation. Weimer and other self-advocates from 46 SourceAmerica member nonprofits will come to Washington, D.C., for training, then on to meetings with members of Congress. They'll meet one-on-one with their representatives and senators to tell them how various pieces of legislation could affect employment opportunities and the workplace for people with disabilities.
Traub said she understands Washington can be a bit daunting, but she trusts Weimer to find his voice.
"I think that once Chad is there and kind of gets familiar with his surroundings and the people that are there, hopefully he will feel more comfortable," she said.
And he hopes to find some time on his upcoming trip to visit the White House and maybe the Lincoln Memorial, his top memory of the nation's capital from his only other visit there at the age of 5.