Valley Life for All: October is Disability Employment Awareness Month
For the Vail Daily
The Vail Daily, in conjunction with Valley Life For All, continues a monthly series of profiles to increase awareness of the value of people of all abilities.
Amy Schuster is a whirlwind of vivacity and laughter. It’s only when she mentions she may move slower than others when she works that one notices she has two prosthetic legs and that she looks a bit different.
Schuster has Moebius syndrome, a rare congenital condition that results from underdevelopment of the facial nerves that control some of the eye movements and facial expressions. The condition can also affect the nerves responsible for speech.
She is quick to say, “My disability isn’t all of who I am.”
The demystification of what “disability” is — Schuster’s goal — is highlighted in October, which is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. The focus is inclusion in the workplace.
Inclusion is what Valley Life For All, a nonprofit, is all about. Executive Director Debbie Wilde emphasizes the need to exclude no one in the workforce. Inclusion is vocabulary that VLFA introduced in its Inclusion Campaign, which began in 2017. The campaign appears through telling local stories to attract and educate people, Wilde said.
“We also came up with Redefining the Perception of Challenge — to change the language in a positive way with the stereotypes and perceptions of disability, including the connection with employment,” she said.
Schuster was the first person in VLFA’s inclusion campaign stories.
“What I saw in Amy was someone with confidence,” Wilde said. “It’s important that those with challenges know their skills are needed, that they’re valuable and worth getting paid at a job.”
“I was excited to jump on the wagon,” Schuster said. She began working as an intern at VLFA in 2011 and is now its secretary of the board of directors.
“A friend needed someone to take her spot there. I thought, this is a nonprofit for the disabled? This is all I’ve ever wanted to do. I’ll be at VLFA ’til the day I die,” she said, grinning. “The inclusion campaign is so beautiful. There’s so many different stories to tell — people with TBI, cerebral palsy, rare disorders like Turner’s sydrome — and none of these stories end on a negative note; there’s always light at the end of the tunnel.”
Schuster’s employers have had various responses to her Moebius syndrome.
“I’m happy to answer any questions they have. But I want to emphasis what I can do at the job,” she said. “I can tell them I’ve faced more adversity in my life, I’m more inclusive and have more empathy because of that, and I’ll make sure that this workforce is inclusive.”
She currently works at a library and loves it. “There are employers who know that those who are marginalized enriches their workforce,” she said. “I think it makes people gravitate towards their business.”
Learn more about Amy Schuster and VLFA on Facebook or ValleyLifeForAll.org.
Local nonprofit Valley Life For All is working to build inclusive communities where people of all abilities belong and contribute. Find us at ValleyLifeForAll.org or on Facebook.