One of the hardest things in America is for a person with a disability to get a job. While in his State of the Union address President Obama spoke a lot about jobs, he left untouched jobs for people with disabilities. Indeed, the painful truth is that during the president's first term in office, the number of Americans collecting federal disability insurance increased by 1,385,418 to a record 8,827,795.

Since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed more than two decades ago, the percentage of people with disabilities in the workforce has not improved by even 1 percent. Fully 70 percent of working-age adults with disabilities are now unemployed.

We obviously hope that President Obama's second term will produce more jobs for all Americans. But hope is a poor planning tool. We can't wait on Washington politicians to make it happen. We need to do our part.

Jews with disabilities are not immune from the challenges. Of course, nothing can prepare a young person, with or without a disability, like a supportive family, good school system and a great opportunity to have a chance.

Thankfully, Montgomery County is one of America's best-known centers of schools and services for children with disabilities. More than 17,000 kids in Montgomery County get special educational services from the Montgomery County Public School system and/or the more than 50 private schools that partner with MCPS to provide services to children with disabilities.

While the system isn't perfect, and there are some cracks to fill (including at our Jewish day schools), our many public and private schools in our county do an outstanding job with children who have a variety of disabilities and challenges. But no matter the high quality of the doctors, therapists and educational services in our area, a huge problem remains for all children with disabilities - their low prospects for future employment. Sadly, potential employers, who legally aren't allowed to discriminate, often find ways to do so anyway. That's where we can step in to help.

The Jewish Social Service Agency offers many wonderful services for job seekers. Additionally, our local government is doing more to create such opportunities. What is needed, however, is for more religious institutions, nonprofits and companies to make a real difference by offering to put a young person with a disability into their office for an unpaid internship or entry-level job where they can get real work experience. Our synagogues and Jewish institutions should find ways to enable Jewish teens with disabilities to get internships where they can build their experience and resumes. A lot more internship opportunities and jobs are needed for local Jews with disabilities who have skills and want to work.

Those of us with time and talent can volunteer to tutor teens in our congregations or serve as "job coaches" for members with disabilities to help them succeed in the workplace.

Every person is made in the image of God. Everyone with a disability also has ability as well. We need to find ways to enable them to let their sparks of God shine brightly.

Thankfully, both MCPS and places like the Katherine Thomas School/The Treatment and Learning Centers are now doing more to help prepare children and young adults with disabilities for the work force.

The MCPS transition services for students with disabilities ages 14-21 are a way to transition from school to post-school activities. Obviously, a key goal is to help them become independent. On a very individual basis they provide support and coaching that in many cases will enable them to go on to post-secondary education, vocational education, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, and/or community participation.

Services are based on the individual student's needs, taking into account the student's strengths, preferences, and interests. Transition services are delivered through direct and/or indirect support coordinated by a transition support teacher. Often this takes a lot of hand-holding, patience and real professional skills.

A key to success is companies who will enable young people with disabilities to intern with them. Local stores like Syms have brought in youth with disabilities to give them work opportunities. Randy Shannon, director of Outcomes Service at the local Treatment and Learning Centers says "employers are realizing that tapping this underutilized resource [people with disabilities] makes great business sense. Businesses that realize that the key to success is getting and keeping capable, dependable workers are finding that these workers can be a 'secret weapon.' "

If you are willing to offer and internship or entry level job to a young person with a disability, contact both Kathy Kolan at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 301-649-8008, and Randy Shannon at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 240-813-6920 today. You will find ready partners who will both help you find the right person for your office and offer them ongoing job coaching. And you just might find your favorite interns and employees ever!

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi is the president of Laszlo Strategies and the co-founder & director of the Mizrahi Family Charitable Trust.

Published by Washington Jewish Week

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