- By Breen & Associates
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Breen & Associates has been operating since 1980. We actually began our work with and for people with disabilities somewhat inadvertently. I was managing a small start-up healthcare company that designed and produced a variety of ambulatory aids. As my business grew and I began to hire more staff, I decided to hire only people with disabilities – from office staff to salespeople to production workers.
I should mention that I also have a disability that has been with me virtually all of my life. However, until I made that hiring decision, I had not given the structural issues of disability a lot of attention. I had not been involved in the “disability movement” that followed the Vietnam War nor had I worked in the field or even socialized with others with disabilities. I had, however, been blatantly refused employment based on my disability. Perhaps it was a recollection of that experience that motivated me to do what I did. In any event, my little company began to look like a poster campaign for disabilities. From a blind lathe operator to a parts assembler with virtually no short-term memory to a warehouse person with a very active seizure disorder, and many others, we were quite a crew. However, we developed strategies and accommodation solutions that met the needs of everyone working in that business. And, most importantly, the products went out the door.
That early period in my career has had a significant influence on my work, and on the work of my associates, in a wide variety of projects and programs in which we have been involved. The current lens of “Inclusion by Design” against which we screen and which we use as a teaching tool for clients, program participants and others, was certainly ground during these times. Polished by experience, electronic and technological developments, and social change, our basic premise has remained constant. With the appropriate motivation, assistance and skills, people can achieve.
What I still had to learn in those early days was that what was needed to be learned was not always what it appeared. Our suppliers, bankers, and customers were as frequently in need of instruction in Motivation, Assistance and Skills Training as were my employees. The motivation to look beyond a salesperson’s obvious disabilities, offer a line of credit to a company owner with significant mobility limitations, or trust an international delivery schedule based on the production of a company full of “those people”, required a considerable demonstration of ability. The assistance we provided to colleagues in our field of manufacture to understand our talents and appreciate our creativity required a considerable demonstration of patience. The skills we provided to others, in communication, in appreciating their own perceptions, and in developing a level of comfort with difference, required a considerable demonstration of tolerance.
We, as people with disabilities, can achieve our goals of employment, acceptance, community integration and full citizenship. We, as employers, can meet our desires and obligations for inclusion. And finally, we, as co-workers, supervisors, and colleagues, can enhance our own dignity by offering our personal contribution to an inclusive environment and community.
These are the principles that support our work at Breen & Associates. Thank you for the opportunity to share these thoughts with you.