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Program Enables Disabled to Work for Themselves

PHOTO: Eric Thomas was paralyzed from the neck down in a shooting, but went on to open his own business, EZ Awareness By Design, thanks to assistance from Goodwill Industries of Mid-Michigan's self-employment services program. Photo courtesy of E. Thomas.
PHOTO: Eric Thomas was paralyzed from the neck down in a shooting, but went on to open his own business, EZ Awareness By Design, thanks to assistance from Goodwill Industries of Mid-Michigan's self-employment services program. Photo courtesy of E. Thomas.
June 16, 2015

FLINT, Mich. – Earning a living in a rewarding career is part of the American dream, and the goal of an innovative Goodwill Industries program is to ensure the American Dream is accessible to everyone – including those with disabilities.

Cheryl Osborn manages the self-employment services program at Goodwill Industries of Mid-Michigan. While people who live with disabilities can't always work traditional jobs, Osborn says with the right support, tools and training, they can be very successful working for themselves.

"They're now seen as a business owner, rather than a person who is just utilizing public dollars for their existence," she says. "It means so much to them to be able to participate in their whole life."

Over the last eight years, the self-employment program has helped dozens of Michiganders with disabilities get their businesses off the ground, and the Goodwill program is currently part of this year's Art Van Charity Challenge.

A fundraising competition in which nonprofits compete to raise the most money, the top-finishing teams win cash prizes from Warren-based Art Van Furniture. The final day of the contest is Monday, June 22.

Eric Thomas' life changed forever when he was the victim of a random shooting in 1997 and paralyzed from the neck down. Four years ago, Goodwill Industries helped him write a business plan for what has become a successful company producing and selling custom apparel for people with disabilities.

"It provides an opportunity for someone to have a better quality of life," says Thomas. "They focus on the ability of a person, not on the disability."

According to Osborn, working with Thomas and others in the self-employment services program is proof changing the world begins with seeing it from someone else's point of view.

"It could be any one of us," she says. "If we really want our society to be inclusive of all people, whether it be race or gender orientation, or disability, we need to embrace everybody's differences."

Mona Shand, Public News Service - MI