Last week was a changing week for me as Dylan’s mom and business partner. Below is the chain of events.
I moved to Florida a few months ago. Dylan stayed in Dallas. This meant Dylan finally had freedom to be Dylan, without my constant physical presence in our home. With me out of Dallas, Dylan rose to the challenge he set for himself in the business: He wanted to make quick impact in Dallas with job seekers and with employers. He initiated a flurry of impactful outreach to the community with a renewed vigor, something he was doing a long time before I moved to Miami. He shared some of that recent activity on social networks. Some were false starts, but, as can happen in entrepreneurship, the false start turned into new opportunity.
Meanwhile, reveling in the cultural diversity of Miami, in my spare time I undertook to volunteer tutor young foreign-born students in their study of French and English. To preserve his anonymity, I will name one of the students of English Adam. I observed Adam’s grandmother place his in-the-ear ear hearing aids just before he entered my classroom. In class, I quickly found Adam’s articulation to be quite poor, his intelligence sharp. I was taken aback that Adam does not wear hearing aids all of the time. I am certain that is contributing to the slowness in his speech development and English language skills. I discussed this issue with Adam’s family. I recalled how Dylan tolerated the over the ear hearing aids, even in the Dallas summers. He complained sometime, but generally tolerated them well. I recalled too how at ARDs the speech pathologist often reiterated how Dylan’s level of speech articulation is shocking given the level of his hearing loss. Tutoring Adam took me on an emotional deja-vu.
Then at a café I randomly engaged in a conversation with a man who is a hiring manager at a large enterprise. Over the years I have treated my random conversations with people at cafes as serious research, including research into issues that relate to the DylanListed Community. What I learned from that hiring manager however pained me. He runs an IT department and when asked if he hires IWDs, he matter-of-factly said no, not really. He added that his management does not ask him to do that and anyway his group requires highly specialized skills. He uses the LinkedIn channel for the hiring and it’s working for him. So he has no incentive to look into another channel for talent for his team. If it’s working why fix it? The problem of course is that it is not working for all. And his company is not tapping into talent that could potentially transform its development teams and approaches to IT solution development.
Later in the week I told Dylan I decided to fly to Dallas this week. I said I miss him and named agenda items for the business, things we might accomplish better in person than remotely over Skype. Dylan’s first reaction was a vehement: “NO. You focus on Miami. I am making progress here in Dallas.” Seeing me tear up at his reaction, what followed is magic, and irony and has taken us to another level in our mother-son and business relationships. Dylan told me that the DylanListed Community wants to hear my voice, the voice of a Mom. He said maybe being apart from him I might develop that voice faster, in Miami. He said being apart from me helped him to enjoy some freedom and strengthen his voice. And he also added that I was too busy being COO, I forgot to be a Mom (because I seemed to focus on the business-related impetus for the trip to Dallas). Impassioned he continued that the more he is in the community, the more he finds out that the community wants to hear my voice. DylanListed, he said, has at least two firm voices: his and mine, and “both matter.” And humbly he asserted that his voice is just not enough. Here is Dylan, who not long ago had no voice in special education classes, teaching me and defining my role in the company. Now that’s an empowered entrepreneur.
In the conversation with Dylan I owned that I had not spoken my mom’s voice yet in our DylanListed journey. While I was present all of the time, I was relatively silent. My style, incompatible with Dylan’s charismatic style of a socially network-plugged post-Millennial, is much more cautious and reserved: Recognizing and awed by the nuanced complexity of the disability issues as they relate to employment, I incessantly read, researched, reflected, re-read, wrote notes, started articles, and only when really ready, spoke. I was getting ready for more effective encounters with employers to speak their language when I pitch DylanListed.com. Dylan told me that my studied, careful style does not work for him and does not work in this business. There is urgency, he said. The DylanListed Community has too many needs and too few real opportunities and especially when it comes to employment. Shocked into recognition of the depth of Dylan’s feelings, I decided to write this piece now, not later, as my, a mom’s voice-in-progress. I need all of the moms and dads who read this to help me refine it in better service of the entire DylanListed Community.
I gave some thought to what would be my first message especially for parents of youth in special needs classes. It is this: Let your son or daughter find his/her voice. Ask questions, then listen. Learn to communicate with your son or daughter. Learn sign language if that’s what’s needed to engage with your son or daughter. Help them to find their interests, then nurture those interests. Give them experiences that will build and reinforce their functional skills. Step aside sometime. Step aside more often. Practice this while your son or daughter is still in school. Every time I did that with Dylan, I was astounded at the results. When Dylan and I attend youth job fairs and events, we try to engage with the youth, but the parents sometimes get in the way and speak for their son or daughter. For Dylan this was very frustrating. For me, it was flashback. I saw myself in those parents. I recalled the fatigue, the slow progress, joy in some milestones, my busy, working mom’s attitude of both hopefulness and lethargy at ARDs of Dylan’s school years. I too was an involved parent, meaning well, but was probably not very effective. And I surely spoke for Dylan often. But once you empower your son or daughter, as did my husband and I with Dylan, magic happens. And when you do that, get ready for that moment when your son or daughter is building YOU up and you step back in awe. It is coming. And, importantly, your son or daughter in the American workplace will transform the American workplace. You will see it and we believe in it.
But, for now, let’s get real about job-seeking. The pace of business is hyper fast today. Competitive pressures abound in the digital age that has democratized access to information and software that transforms business processes while globalization off-shored US manufacturing jobs. Employers want to hire the best, fast and then they want to retain the best. All job seekers, including job seekers with disabilities, must develop a series of experiences, including education, training and all kinds of work-type experiences, that make them a qualified candidate for a job. Yet, a qualified job seeker with a disability may not be the successful candidate, meaning there is simply no guarantee he/she will be hired. This is because US employers have no mandate to hire qualified individuals with disabilities. Sure, federal contractors and subcontractors are required to show affirmative action plans that demonstrate continuous improvement in the hiring and retention of IWDs and the new Section 503 law is causing a positive change1 in promotion of disability diversity in those types of businesses. But the new law is not a mandate. It is instead a management process with a clearly stated goal. Other businesses, inspired by internal champions, may adopt employer-driven initiatives for the hiring of IWDs. They exist, we found them, applaud them, seek them, but they are limited in number today. Dylan and I are committed to growing their numbers.
Our vision is that every serious job seeker with a disability, including SpEd students in high school, has access to training options that are job-linked and linked to actual job opportunities and incorporating an assimilation component (for job seeker/students and employers). That is the model that our newest partner in the training domain, NextCareer LLC, is pursuing and we delight in it and will actively participate with NextCareer. We are working to identify similar job-driven educational and training programs across the country and showcase them on the Universal Calendar feature of our application. You may need to travel to those locations if the training experience you seek is not available today in your area. The bottom line is this: Serious job seekers today need a job-seeking strategy and the will and ability to act on that strategy. Job seekers: Continue to get ready for the work situation of your dreams and help us to serve you better.