Approximately 45 youth and young adults with disabilities in Mississippi participated in the ToTAL (Transition of Teens to Adult Life) National Disability Mentoring Day on Oct. 21 in celebration of National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
The ToTAL Program is provided through the Institute for Disability Studies (IDS) at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM), Mississippi's University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD) and receives funding from the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services. IDS has celebrated National Disability Mentoring Day for 11 years while also including an emphasis on employment, which represents the connection to National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
National Disability Mentoring Day is a nationwide effort to promote career development through job exploration and mentoring relationships for students and jobseekers with disabilities. This day is celebrated the third Wednesday of October each year. The entire month of October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
The purpose of the monthlong celebration is to educate people about disability employment topics and celebrate the many and varied contributions of American workers with disabilities. This year’s theme was “Increasing Access and Opportunity" with youth and young adults as the primary focus.
This year was the first time that the IDS sponsored event was held virtually via Zoom. The 2020 event featured representatives from four local businesses - two from the Hattiesburg area and two from the MS Gulf Coast area. These included Jason Spiers with JMH Graphics, Melissa Weaver with the USM Center for Child Development, Dr. Jennifer Sutton with Gulf Coast Veterinary Emergency Hospital, and Erin Maldonado with Juan’s Mexican Grill & Cantina.
Students participated in an activity prior to the event to choose their favorite business and develop questions they wanted to ask during the live informational interview.
When Melissa Weaver from the Child Development Center was asked about the importance of celebrating National Disability Mentoring Day, she stated: “Letting others know that the job opportunities at a childcare center are all different, unique, and, of course, special is a privilege and honor… We become better people – and better teachers – when we help others grow and learn too.”
For more than 40 years, IDS has maintained its mission to "positively affect the lives of Mississippi citizens with developmental and other disabilities and their families across the lifespan and to work toward increasing their independence, productivity, and community inclusion." IDS has four emphasis areas for its programs and services: Early Childhood Inclusion and Education, Housing, Transition to Adulthood and Wellness.