My Advice for Meaningful Employment

October 11, 2022

Hanna Atkinson 23, lives in Littleton Colorado. She has been an avid public speaker and gave the commencement speech at her high school graduation. She became a Denver 7 contributor in 2015 and was awarded the Heartland Broadcast Emmy in 2017 for her segment “More Alike Than Different.” Hanna was selected to be a Special Olympic International Health Messenger in 2017 to educate fellow athletes on becoming their best in sports and in life. She is creating a business to inspire joy, acceptance, and empowerment in memory of her brother, and she volunteers for many community nonprofits. In Hanna’s free time she likes to ski, cycle, works out, plays chess, and listens to classical music.

Pledge to Take Action

Happy October and National Disability Employment Awareness Month! It’s the season of showcasing diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

On this topic, many think that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) struggle in the workplace. This is an unfair opinion. People with IDD can rise to the expectations when given the time and support necessary to develop the tools to be successful. The research shows that we are a powerful and positive impact on a company and that hiring people with IDD boosts productivity and creativity, adds fresh perspectives, and increases problem-solving. Statistics show that only 15% of adults (18+) with IDD have paid employment. Most companies don’t understand they are missing these important qualities when they don’t hire a diverse workplace.

It is an honor for me that I can maintain two paid jobs. It has been a miracle journey for me leading to careers that made me feel empowered.

Throughout my journey, I had many opportunities to be more prepared. I had two major steps into the workplace.

I gained experience in communication and service to grow my professional strengths. For me, Special Olympics Colorado offered loads of chances to speak and help at events like Polar Plunges, Tip-a-Cop, Capitol Hill Day, and Hall of Fame. I also participated in Health Messenger training, Athlete Leadership University and carried out my SSIGM responsibilities. All of these provided me time to practice skills and develop the discipline to be committed and the confidence to flourish.

Three people stand on a stage behind a podium.
Presenting at a Law Enforcement Torch Run event with Special Olympics Colorado staff and fellow United Airlines Service Ambassador.

I made connections and shared my expectations with others. By doing this, people I knew could see my direction in life. These supportive individuals listened to me, guided me, and encouraged me to make wise choices that fit my future.

A very outstanding example of a supportive individual was when Stephanie Lauchmen notified me of the Bridge Program at United Airlines, and I committed to applying as a service ambassador. Another example is communicating that I wanted to work for Special Olympics International and this led to a discussion with the Global Youth and Education team as a storytelling fellow.

For the United Airlines Service Ambassador position, I tightened my resume and prepared to be asked questions during the interview. On my resume, I showed the experiences that I had and the qualities I have for this work. I thought through interview questions like how I learn and work best.

I nailed the interview and secured the job! I was clear and honest, I answered the questions and asked if they could repeat the questions when I didn’t understand. I was myself even though I was nervous. I told them that I didn’t know that much about the airport industry, but I was overjoyed to know more.

Two individuals stand at an airline check-in counter.
(I really enjoy working as a Service ambassador at United Airlines./Photo by Arbinger Institute)

One big learning curve in being employed is understanding and navigating transportation. This is my biggest challenge because I made a choice, early on in my life, not to get a driver’s license. I tried the light rail (train) with my father. That is something that didn’t come naturally to me. The bus works better for me and now I take that with great pride. My parents dropp me off and pick me up at the station. The bonus of my Special Olympics fellowship is that it is all online so I do not need to worry about transportation.

A woman sits at a computer. In the left photo, she is speaking and in the photo on the right she is typing.
Engaging in a valuable discussion with my SOI Global Youth and Education team (left) and writing a team message to my SOI manager for my fellowship (right).

For readers with IDD who are looking for meaningful employment, here is my advice:

  • Develop the skills and interest
  • Show the company what you can do
  • Let your personality shine in the company – keep smiling!
  • Ask for help and your team will help you
  • Believe that you can do anything
  • Be honest
  • Take initiative
  • Be on time
  • Be willing to improve by listening to feedback that is useful
  • Tell yourself that you are enough and important in this world
  • Ask for accommodations you need to perform the job well

And for all the companies out there:

  • Take the chance to hire someone with IDD
  • Accommodate us
  • Listen to and value us
  • Your company WILL BE more successful!

Pledge to Take Action



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