It’s hard not to notice the media’s attention on COVID-19 and its impact on employment. Since 9.6 mi…
Crystal Odom-McKinney was named one of Chicago Defender’s Women of Excellence Honorees.
It’s hard not to notice the media’s attention on COVID-19 and its impact on employment. Since 9.6 million people lost their jobs in the U.S., it makes sense. However, very little spotlight is put on the 5.7 million workers ages 55 and up that lost their jobs during March and April of 2020 alone. Currently, older workers are 17 percent more likely to become unemployed than their slightly younger peers (AARP). Perhaps there is a sentiment that this issue only concerns matters of retirement. Some may believe that people entering retirement just need to be a little scrappier with their finances, but in the end, they’ll be okay. Crystal Odom-McKinney knows there’s more at stake than that.
Crystal Odom-McKinney is the National Director of the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) at Easterseals. SCSEP is the largest federally funded program for older job seekers. After over 20 years managing nonprofit programs and working with underserved populations, Odom-McKinney has a deep understanding about how complex an issue like unemployment can be for communities that often don’t get as much attention. For her work, Odom-McKinney was recently honored at 15th Annual Chicago Defender Women of Excellence Awards, which celebrates local African American women who inspire others through their vision and leadership. During National Employ Older Workers Week, we thought it would be a great time ask a few questions about what this award means to her and why she is so passionate about the work that she does.
What does being recognized as a Chicago Defender Women of Excellence Honoree mean to you?
It is such an honor to be recognized for what I do both inside and outside of work. I give all gratitude to my family, friends, and community, because this is what drives my purpose. One of my favorite quotes by Mahatma Gandhi is “You may never know what results come of your actions, but if you do nothing, there will be no results.”
Why is it important that we recognize National Employ Older Workers Week?
Mature job seekers remain a vital part of the workforce. First, we are living longer healthier lives. We have more options now and retirement is just one. Many return to work to pursue different types of disciplines. That said, mature adults also bring unique value to companies and organizations with attributes such as reliability, dependability and a unique perspective due to life experiences. Employers need to be educated on the myths and truths about hiring workers. For example, retraining or retaining mature workers may be more cost-effective than hiring and onboarding their younger counterparts.
Why are Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) services important to meet the needs of communities today?
I have many stories from the field where I’ve been told, “this program changed my life.” But there is one powerful story about a job seeker who said this program saved her life. This particular SCSEP participant overcame obstacles like homelessness, unemployment, learning challenges with technology, ending an abusive toxic relationship, and seeking out support for her mental wellness. On many occasions, she felt hopeless and that no one cared. Since enrolling in the SCSEP program, opportunities opened in every way: she now has a home and steady income. She’s learning new skills, is comfortable using a computer, and has support on her mental wellness journey from years of being unheard.
And this is what it is all about. SCSEP is about bringing hope back to those who felt like every door was shut on them. It’s about providing opportunities and options for those who need that added support. It’s about bringing harmony to communities across the country through training opportunities at local organizations. We’re sharing these stories with lawmakers in D.C. to have elected officials reach out to local businesses and encourage the employment of these job seekers. This is the magic of the SCSEP program and why it is so important!
While a headline of “maybe” might not sound super exciting – it’s far better than a “no.”
Person by person, conversation by conversation, email by email – accessible airlines are coming.
10 years ago, after crafting a blog post with the passion and plan to make airlines more accessible for wheelchair users, and wielding a petition with thousands of signatures, my family and I took the 726-mile drive to Washington DC to meet with elected officials and the Department of Transportation (DOT).
With a wickedly connected Legislative Affairs Assistant from Easterseals – an organization I’ve become deeply acquainted with after serving as a Easterseals National Representative in 2012 – we had high hopes for our meetings. I was out to change the world of airline travel for thousands.
While I had a life-changing experience traversing the Capital, navigating our countries most historic office buildings, making my way up and down 110-year-old elevators, waiting anxiously outside those elected officials’ offices, and – the highlight of a lifetime – meeting the architect of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Tom Harkin – to say I left “the Hill” disappointed was an understatement.
I don’t get worked up often, but I distinctly recall having to hold back harsh words of frustration, while an official at the DOT – on speakerphone, mind you – told me all the reasons why a wheelchair on an airplane wouldn’t work. Money. Regulations. Excuses. All while her colleagues in the room looked at me with despair, realizing my sharply rising blood pressure after traveling halfway across the country for this meeting.
In 2012, it was clear to me that accessible airlines weren’t a priority. I got a “no.”
Luckily, there are fellow fighters and advocates out there. My friend, Michele Erwin, and crew at All Wheels Up (AWU) – the only organization in the world crash testing wheelchairs for commercial flights – and a boatload of advocates, who share the same passions I had while staring those DOT officials in the eyes – have accessible airlines a top priority and have pounded the pavement since I was in DC.
There has been a lot of progress. Wheelchair crash testing. More and more meetings with elected officials and airline representatives. There have been studies commissioned at multiple universities – and, with each of these examples – I’m just speaking about the work done by All Wheels Up!
Yes, I buried the lead with this story, but after 10 years of work, and now under the leadership of a fellow Hoosier at the Department of Transportation, and years of advocacy efforts – we are making progress! A hard “no” is now a “maybe,” and while it could be a few years for implementation, the very fact that Secretary Buttigieg is making statements using the terms “wheelchair users on airplanes” makes me teary-eyed with excitement.
While I certainly wasn’t the first to bring up the concept of a wheelchair spot on the airlines, and I only carried the torch for short amount of time, it is nonetheless exhilarating to read a “maybe” in the headlines.
“Maybe” someday I’ll fly to DC to advocate for another worthy cause. Maybe someday I’ll fly to LA to meet with my coworkers. Maybe, someday I’ll finally make my lifelong bucket list trip to Australia.
Disability Committee Twitter Reactions: Why Do People Choose Cruelty Over Understanding?
Monday, August 8, 2022, 12:54 PM
A couple of weeks ago, someone published a tweet making fun of Vice President Kamala Harris for intr…
A couple of weeks ago, someone published a tweet making fun of Vice President Kamala Harris for introducing herself at a Disability Committee meeting by stating her pronouns and describing what she was wearing. The tweet comes with a link to a video so followers can hear for themselves: “I am Kamala Harris,” the vice president says. “My pronouns are she and her, and I am a woman sitting at the table wearing a blue suit.” The poster claimed it was “one of the weirdest things” they’d ever seen and said the video left them LOL=laughing out loud.
Disability advocates who responded to the tweet explained that the vice president was introducing herself to a Disability Committee, and that giving a description of her appearance like that is “accessibility protocol” for people who are blind or visually impaired.
A few followers responded with short replies like “Thanks, I hadn’t thought of that” and “Oh, that makes sense.” What was shocking was seeing how many of the loyal followers took their cue from the influencer and left rude comments about people who are blind or visually impaired — ridiculous replies like, “I wear glasses, do I count?” and “What if you’re color blind?”
Declaring something as “accessibility protocol” and the idea that people choose cruelty over understanding has left me pondering two questions:
What makes people be this mean?
Who decides what qualifies as “accessibility protocol”?
Pretty heady questions, eh? I had to do some research! If you ask me, we could have all the assistive technology and accessible protocol in the world, but if we can’t conquer the fear average people have about disability and address the assumptions they have about us, disability discrimination and ableism will never go away.
Philosopher Bertrand Russell said that fear is one of the main sources of cruelty, and that: “To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.” I don’t see enforcing “accessibility protocol” as a good way to conquer the fears people have about us – at its worse, it could leave people worrying about doing or saying the wrong thing and not engaging us at all.
Being blind or having another disability does mean we do some activities differently than someone without a disability, but “helper tools” can make nearly all activities possible. I am blind, and in the past year or so I’ve attended more and more events (live and virtual) where the speakers or participants are told to “self-describe” themselves before starting their presentations. You know, for the “benefit of people in the audience who have a visual impairment.” But asking people to describe what they look like can be awkward. It points out what people who are blind or have visual impairments are lacking.
I haven’t asked many of my friends who are blind what they think of self-describing. They might enjoy hearing people say what they look like, and if they do, that’s great. I’m not going to call them “weird” or make a joke about it just because it’s not something that personally benefits me.
As for the accessibility protocol itself, I’d like to have whoever it is who decides what accessibility protocol is to figure out who needs it, what situations come up where they need it, and think of ways to make changes less complicated. Hopefully, this way of implementing “accessibility protocol” will begin to build bridges.