CHICAGO — Seyfarth Shaw, one of the city’s largest law firms, occupies nine floors of a skyscraper at 131 S. Dearborn St. Shalonda Sanders is responsible for picking up and delivering packages on each of them, plus keeping certain areas clean. It is a job she cherishes.
“I love my co-workers, all of them,” Sanders, 35, said of the 15-member office services team of which she is a part. “Downstairs,” she said, referring to the mail center, “I consider us as one.”
Sanders, who suffered brain damage when she was struck by a car as a child, was hired at Seyfarth about a year ago with the help of Best Buddies Illinois, after many years of trying unsuccessfully to gain paid employment.
The local chapter of the national nonprofit, best known for fostering one-on-one friendships between people with disabilities and a network of volunteers, had recently launched a jobs program to place people with intellectual and developmental disabilities into competitive jobs.
The program, one of many attempting to tackle the massive unemployment rate among those with intellectual disabilities, is part of a movement away from what are known as sheltered programs that keep workers with disabilities apart from the mainstream workforce and often pay less than minimum wage. Its challenge is to show companies that tapping into this underused talent pool isn’t just a good thing to do, but good for the bottom line.
Gabriela Lemos was born in Porto Alegre, Brasil, and was raised in San Antonio, Texas. She is currently a student at UTSA, graduating in December 2014 with a Bachelor degree in English. Brie states that she loves language and words, and the way in which people communicate with each other. She has always been interested and attracted to the autism community. “I find those on the spectrum to be incredible in so many ways, and I believe we can all learn from each other in our different strengths and weaknesses. I would love to use my talents to aid those who are not as strong in areas which I have confidence, and in turn receive an infinite amount of lessons and aid from those who I work with. Everything you send out, comes back to you, and I plan to practice sending out love and compassion every day”. We feel so fortunate to offer Brie’s talent of writing as well as her passion for autism awareness every week through our Aspergers101 Weekly.