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October 28, 2011

People

Disability speaker: All disabled workers want is a chance to work

All anyone with a disability wants is a chance to get a job and to prove his or herself, said Ken Melvin, a disabled Special Olympian.

Melvin was the guest speaker at Fort McCoy’s Disability Awareness Month luncheon Oct. 13. He brings his enthusiasm as an advocate for those with disabilities and recounts among his accomplishments his being in the Special Olympics program for the past 18 years and his service with the Indiana Army National Guard and deployment to Afghanistan.
PHOTO: Ken Melvin addresses the audience at the Fort McCoy Disability Awareness Month observance Oct. 13. Photo by Rob Schuette
Ken Melvin addresses the audience at the Fort McCoy Disability Awareness Month observance Oct. 13. (Photo by Rob Schuette)

“I speak at events like this throughout the country to spread the word about disabilities,” Melvin said. “If you want the best worker in the world, hire someone with a disability. They will work hard and never give up.”

Sue Bickford, the Army Reserve Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Director, said employees with disabilities in the Fort McCoy work force provide quality work and are an inspiration for all.

The EEO-sponsored event helps highlight the contributions and accomplishments of employees who have disabilities, she said.
Melvin said he turned to sports in high school as a way to overcome an intellectual disability.

The only time he wasn’t put in special classes in high school was when he was playing football.

He remains active in several sports: volleyball, basketball, golf and bowling, and recently accompanied the Presidential Delegation Team to the summer World Special Olympics in Athens, Greece.

Melvin said because of his disability he had trouble managing his personal finances and was thousands of dollars in debt before he joined Special Olympics and got the training he needed to function as a contributing member of society.

People with disabilities aren’t afraid to work, but often are unemployed or underemployed. Melvin related the story of a woman who was hired to simply provide a company with the handicapped employee it was required to have and not allowed to do any work.

“She wanted to learn, and began to learn to do more and more tasks,” Melvin said.” Eventually, the company put her in charge of training new employees, including those who didn’t have disabilities.”

Several of the employees without disabilities decided they didn’t have to listen or take instructions from her and were fired for walking out of the sessions, he said.

Employees with disabilities operate with a kind of warrior ethos “I will never quit,” he said. Disabled employees are much less likely to miss work, or, if they do take a day off schedule it far in advance for an official reason, not just to take the day off for recreation.

Melvin also used the never-give-up spirit to embark on a military career — like his father who served on active duty for 30 years — against all the odds.

With a Family that included children, Melvin knew the active Army wasn’t the right circumstance or the right fit for him. He decided on the Indiana National Guard, but had to take and pass the entrance exam.

“I found out the test could be taken multiple times so I found a recruiter who would help me schedule the testing and help me learn what I needed to learn to pass,” he said. “I wound up taking the test seven times before I passed it.”

Melvin served a year in Afghanistan, which he called a very interesting place, and professed to missing Forward Operating Base Salerno.

Statistics indicate people with disabilities who work have better health and can expect a longer life and greater satisfaction with that life, Melvin said.

There are about 2.5 million people in the U.S. who have a physical or intellectual disability, including many Soldiers who have served overseas.

“A person with disabilities can do a lot,” he said. “Don’t underestimate a person with a disability. They always can continue to learn.”

For more information about Disability Awareness Month or EEO issues in the Fort McCoy work force, call 608-388-3106/3107.

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