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“We are adaptive. We are creative.” Documentary highlights Disability Employment Awareness Month

disability awareness
Posted at 1:59 PM, Oct 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-22 13:59:09-04

In a time when there’s such a need in the workforce, members of one community are asking for opportunity. Advocates say people with disabilities are some of the most adaptive and creative potential employees you can find. A message of inclusion is finding another platform.

It’s a story that starts with a notepad, a guitar pick, and some tape. We’ll get to all that.

The music of Tony Memmel takes him to stages in cities by day, to gigs by night. He’s a singer/songwriter and guitarist. The lyrics start with a pencil and paper.

“I like to write by hand, scribble out all these different ideas,” Tony said, referring to the notepad where he writes his songs.

Tony writes from a place of honesty and encouragement that comes from his own unique life experience.

“I was born with one hand,” said Tony. “I like to use my music and story as an example of what you can do in life. Capability over disability.”

That’s led Tony to airports and appearances all over the world.

“I’ve been to 47 different states in the last few years and also 23 countries sharing my music and message,” he said. “It’s schools, churches, hospitals.”

“I have a space on my arm that is the exact size of a guitar pick,” said Tony, showing how he builds a small cast to hold his pick while he plays. “I take three pieces of Gorilla Tape. Because I was born this way, I’ve had to do everything differently in my life, but I was always able to find a unique way to make something possible.”

Now, Tony’s using more than that pencil and notepad to share stories of capability.

He’s just put together a documentary through the United States Department of State and the nonprofit American Voices. It showcases interviews with artists of all abilities for National Disability Employment Awareness Month. It’s people like violinist Gaelynn Lea.

“I have a disability called osteogenesis imperfecta or brittle bones disease,” said Gaelynn. “I play the violin up and down like a tiny cello.”

Then there’s Myrna Clayton, who runs the nonprofit SHOWAbility, advocating for people of all abilities to be employed in the arts.

“I’m someone who does not allow someone to use their weakness as an excuse,” Myrna said. “You wanna be on my stage, you gotta be good. This is not a Kumbaya moment. You gotta be really good. I’m not reducing the standard of excellence.”

Tony’s documentary and interviews can be found on YouTube where the goal in part is to remind businesses of the importance of being accessible to people of all abilities. It also shines a light on the talent and contributions all people can bring to a workplace.

“People with differences and disabilities have an amazing capability that they’ve earned from spending their lives coming up with solutions to challenges,” said Tony. “We’re adaptive. We’re creative. The disabled community can help to chart the path forward in a COVID recovering workforce and world.”

Whether it’s pencil and paper, whether it’s film, Tony’s hope is to send a message. This time, he’s got help from friends.

“We are here,” said Gaelynn. “We got your back.”

“All of us are capable,” said Myrna. “We just have to find our thing. We gotta find our niche. Make it happen. Make it do what it do.”

“No matter where you’re coming from or your difference or disability, don’t give up, especially those things you feel especially called to,” said Tony.

Tony’s series of videos can be found here.