October 20, 2021

‘Follow your dreams’

Youths with disabilities get chance to explore careers

Photos by Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Lori Law gives Cortland ninth-grader Terry Hudon a tour of CNY Farm Supply on Wednesday as part of Disability Mentoring Day. Law is the office manager for CNY Farm and Power Sport dealerships.

Marisa Baum sat Wednesday next to Cortland police Officer Joe Peters as he patrolled city streets, reported to a property damage accident, and watched while he negotiated with the irritated parties involved in the crash.

Baum was taking it all in as part of Disability Mentoring Day, a nationwide initiative to provide job shadowing opportunities for youths with disabilities.

Even though she’s only in the 10th grade at Cortland High School, Baum thinks her powers of observation, and desire to help people, position her well for a career in law enforcement — which is why she chose to shadow Peters.

“Bad people should be put away,” Baum said while sitting in the police station waiting for Peters to take her for the ride along.

Baum said she doesn’t consider herself to have a disability, but she has trouble with memory.

Much of what she learned was the tedious and time-consuming aspect of police work — how to log evidence into the computer and the importance of diligently inputting personal information at the scene of accidents.

She wasn’t turned away, though.

“It’s like school,” she said.

For Peters, it was a chance to show another side of policing. As he reported to the accident on Union Street, Peters explained that different people respond differently to the presence of a police car.

Some people want to fight police, just because they don’t like them, while others are on their best behavior, he said.

Taking part

Participating employers who had students shadowing them for Disability Mentoring Day included:
Cortland Fire Department; Sun Auto; Rescue Mission; Country Max; WXHC; CNY SNAP; Cortland Flower Shop; Price Chopper; Smith School; CNY Farm Supply; Mr. Tire; Local Food Market; Color Me Red; Crossroads Veterinary; Tompkins Cortland Community College

It wasn’t Baum’s first year participating in Disability Mentoring Day — last year she shadowed a veterinarian. However, while she likes helping animals, she wants to help people more.

Rachel Anderson, community education coordinator at Access to Independence, which coordinates the local mentoring event, said the agency has been handling it for more than a decade. Before that it was under the purview of the J.M Murray Center, she said.

The nationwide initiative is always the third Wednesday in October, Anderson said, but that doesn’t stop Access to Independence from offering mentoring opportunities year-round to students who want them.

Max Queen, a Cortland 10th-grader, helps Laura Eaton, left, at Central New York Spay Neuter Assistance Program Wednesday in Cortland.

“If in December they want to do this again, or January or April or whenever, they can call and let me know and I can set up job shadows or internships or mentoring opportunities,” she said.

Statistics show the rate of unemployment for people with disabilities is typically three times higher than people without disabilities, Anderson said.

In 2017, 18.7 percent of persons with a disability were employed, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s compared to the employment- population ratio of 65.7 percent for people without a disability.

The mentoring day is offered to any student who self identifies as having a disability or any student with an Individualized Education Plan or a 504 Plan, which is a less intensive form of paperwork that governs the delivery of instruction for someone with a disability.

Wednesday’s mentoring day saw 30 students from three schools participating at 19 businesses across the county.

The purpose of the program, said Anderson, is to show students their options.

“Kids with disabilities, a lot of times we’re told we can’t do this or can’t do that and we want to show them how you can follow your dreams, and you can do it,” Anderson said.