My week presenting at the 2019 National APSE Conference
by Katie Page, Program Director of Employment Services
As I sit and reflect on the amazing week I had in St. Louis at the 2019 National APSE Conference, I am overwhelmed and inspired. Overwhelmed with the knowledge I gained from presenters, colleagues, and new friends. Inspired by those who were honored throughout the conference for their dedicated work and tireless advocacy towards competitive and integrated employment for all.
The invitation to present at the National APSE Conference alongside Bridget Kennedy from Wildwood Programs and Brett Bellinger from Liberty ARC was a great honor. The topic of the Reverse Job Fair and how to engage your own Chamber of Commerce to facilitate Job Fairs to benefit people of diverse abilities, was wildly successfully. The presentation was so well attended that it became standing room only. This is a great testament to the desire of people all over our country to discover more ways to engage their community members in finding appropriate ways to work with people of diverse abilities. We have accomplished so much in this area, but still have so far to go. The Reverse Job is a huge step in the right direction.
During the conference, I had the chance to take time and explore the city of St Louis with colleagues, and what a great city it was! St Louis is known for The Gateway Arch, as it is the “Gateway to the West”. The National conference itself was themed “Gateway to Inclusive Employment”. Throughout the conference, this theme kept showing up and reminding us that that are many bridges to gap. We need to bridge the gap of awareness of Employment First; employment as the first option for people with disabilities. We need to bridge the gap between youth services and adult services. We need to bridge the gap of collaboration within organizations and their own departments. The more we all can work together, the better outcomes there will be. There are more people that need and want support than any one provider, organization, department, or single person can support. Organizations who support people in need are partners; we are not, and should never be, in competition with one another.
As my colleagues and I explored the city, we made the quick decision to go to the top of The Gateway Arch. Thankfully, there was minimal time for me to convince myself that this was not a good idea. As we entered the park, and awaited our turn to go to the top, we listened to stories of how the arch was built, its architecture, and the amazing workers that built this arch with no harnesses! The staff tell us that as you ride up the tram to the top you are going to hear clicking. She continues to explain that this tram was built with the same design as a ferris wheel so that the riders can remain upright. Thankfully again, it is a short 4-minute ride to the top. However, this was quite a long 4-minute ride. As she warned, we did hear the clicking of the tram, but the view was well worth the uncomfortable ride! Sitting in a window overlooking the arch at the end of the conference, I reflected on how the clicking of the tram relates to life. In a field of work in which we face many obstacles, we need to constantly “click” to adjust to challenges; physical challenges, emotional challenges, financial challenges. We have to constantly adjust as supporters, as providers, and as humans! In order to do that we have to remain upright and “click”.
Returning home to New York, we are now faced with the challenge of implementing all that we learned at the APSE Conference. The collaboration amongst the Capital District APSE Group was solidified during this trip. Spending a week with colleagues, who have become friends, has already made bridging the gap between organizations so much easier. We will continue to be gatekeepers to employment, as well as gatekeepers to the amazing things that can happen when we all work together.