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It’s a celebration of achievement, a spotlight for partners, a hub for advice, and a showcase of the talent and determination that define our community. Visit us to be inspired, informed, and involved in making employment accessible for everyone. Let’s share our stories and celebrate every milestone together on projectinc.org/pathway-pulse.

Enhancing Employment Opportunities for Individuals with Disabilities through Self-Advocacy: The Role of Project CU in CHOICE 

Last week at the Missouri’s State Capitol, a gathering unfolded that was more than a routine event. The event, organized by the Missouri Provider’s Association for Extended Employment, was an indicator of hope and progress. The bustling rotunda became a stage for advocating employment choices for individuals with disabilities – a group too often relegated to the margins of the workforce. Here, the message was clear: employment for these individuals transcends the mere earning of a paycheck; it symbolizes independence, dignity, and integration into the social fabric.  

At the heart of this transformative movement is Project CU, a program that does not just offer jobs but fosters a culture where people with disabilities are heard and listened to. “These men and women have a voice but often need a platform,” asserted Kit Brewer, Project CU’s Executive Director. “And we are here to ensure that they have one.” 

The Capitol’s event was vibrant and meaningful. Individuals with disabilities, their families, and employers showcased their products and shared their narratives with legislators, underscoring the importance of supported employment programs. This interaction marked a crucial shift from being passive aid recipients to becoming active, engaged citizens. 

The Power of Self-Advocacy

Self-advocacy is crucial in this context. Articulating one’s needs and rights is incredibly empowering for those historically marginalized. Research, including studies by Bush & Tassé (2017), paints a stark picture of the employment challenges faced by people with disabilities. Their employment rates are significantly lower than their non-disabled counterparts. It is about enabling them to have a voice in policy discussions that impact their lives.  

Personal Stories of Impact

The event brought to light personal stories demonstrating the significant impact of Project CU and supported employment. Chris Bianchi, who communicates using an alternative device, shared, “I will never be able to work in a competitive work setting. I am too small, too slow, and cannot stay on task well. Project CU is literally a lifeline for me.” Similarly, Melissa Fox, a long-time worker at Project CU, and her mother, Pamela, highlighted the necessity of such programs. Pamela shared, “Although some with disabilities can function in mainstream jobs, this does not apply to all. [Project CU] provides a place where my daughter is safe and nurtured, which certainly would not be the case in competitive employment. This is a great comfort to parents with special needs children.” 

Beyond Jobs: A Comprehensive Approach

Project CU is not just about jobs. It is a comprehensive approach that combines vocational training with real-life work experience. This model ensures participants are employed in supportive environments and equipped with life skills, enabling professional and personal development. 

Empathy and Understanding

“Walk in someone else’s shoes,” a metaphor for empathy, is vital in understanding the lives of individuals with disabilities. It is about empathizing with their daily challenges and achievements, not just offering sympathy. 

Societal Benefits of Supported Employment

Supported employment models like Project CU demonstrate significant societal benefits. Studies show that employment correlates with better health, quality of life, and reduced social service costs (Hall, Kurth, & Hunt, 2013). Angela Graves, a 35-year employee at Project CU, is a testament to this. Her mother proudly shared, “Because of the income, she could buy her own home, and her pride in this accomplishment was made possible because of the additional money she earned at Project CU.” 

Project CU’s model extends beyond individual benefits. Encouraging self-advocacy does not just enhance lives; it contributes to broader societal shifts toward inclusivity. 

The Collective Journey Towards Inclusion

The journey to an inclusive workforce, where individuals with disabilities are integral contributors, is collective. It requires the effort of individuals, organizations, and lawmakers. Initiatives like Project CU lead the way, proving that with the proper support, individuals with disabilities can make significant contributions to the workforce and society. Embracing and supporting transformative models like Project CU is imperative as we strive for a more inclusive future. 

A Call to Action

Now, we turn to you, the readers, the policymakers, the employers, and the community members. Your engagement and support are vital. Visit Project CU, understand their model, and witness the profound impact of supported employment firsthand. Encourage your local representatives to prioritize and support legislation that empowers employment for individuals with disabilities. Employers can consider partnering with programs like Project CU for mutual benefit. As community members, your advocacy and awareness can drive change. Together, let us embrace and champion these transformative models as a duty and a privilege to build a more inclusive and equitable society. 

Project CU, Inc. Media Contact:  

Stephanie Schrage 





Project CU Workers posed for a photo. You can tell by their faces everyone had a great time meeting with leaders at the Capitol Building in Jefferson City.

The workers enjoyed showing the representatives and senators their work and how they do it.