The Right to Work

Meet three women who prove that women with disabilities could be your best employees

October marks National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and many people with disabilities struggle to find and keep jobs. Currently, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is 10.5%. That’s compared to 4.5% for people without disabilities. So often, this problem is perpetuated by the unawareness of the strengths that people with disabilities can bring to the table. In fact, it’s been proven that companies that hire people with disabilities are better able to innovate and nurture a stronger sense of loyalty among their customers and employees.

It is important to shed a light on the obstacles people with disabilities face in the work force and raise awareness of the positive impact they can bring to a job, so employers can step up and start hiring more people with different perspectives and strengths.

Thanks to Miss Amazing, hundreds of girls and women with disabilities have had the opportunity to gain communication and self-advocacy skills that translate into the workplace. Each of the following women understands how important it is for employers to embrace people with disabilities with open arms. They all have experienced caring, supportive, and welcoming coworkers and employers.

Photo by Jim Turner

Georgia Biewald, or Gigi as her coworkers more affectionately call her, is 29
years old and already has her dream job, something that often takes a lifetime to achieve. She currently works in the Guest Services Department at Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, Connecticut. Starting in the Operations Department more than 5 years ago, Georgia has worked her way up to become an interpreter, someone who stands at the exhibits and educates people on the animals. Georgia wakes up excited to go to work. “I love animals,
and I get to learn something new every day. I learn lots of fun facts,” said Georgia.

Photo by Jim Turner

Along with her job, Georgia has had a positive experience with Miss Amazing, and it has impacted her life at work. “Miss Amazing has helped me be more confident at my job,” Georgia said. And her bosses agree.

“She is amazing at [her job]! She has a will and a determination to always do her best,” said Patte Dunne, Captain of Guest Services at Mystic Aquarium. All of Georgia’s bosses value the work she brings to the table. “All people have a variety of different abilities. Each person comes with their own uniqueness. This unique blend of abilities helps us to connect with our community and provides us the opportunity to learn from those who may differ from us,” said Kateri Wheeler, the Senior Director of Human Resources at Mystic Aquarium.

Cassie Lacy is 25 years old and is also currently working a job she adores. Cassie is an assistant at Creative Hair Design, a salon in Omaha, Nebraska, where she has been employed for more than four years. “I like showing up for work. I love it. It’s a big part of my life,” said Cassie. Participating in the Miss Amazing shows has helped Cassie learn the importance of speaking slowly, making eye contact, answering people’s questions, and listening — skills that Cassie takes with her into her job every day.

Left photo by Sam Mfinanga

Cassie has become so close with her coworkers that they refer to each other as
family. They often do activities outside of work, such as getting sushi, going to parties, and getting their hair done. With such a supportive staff, Cassie continues to grow her time management and multitasking skills. Cassie’s boss, John Mangiameli, appreciates the energy Cassie brings to work every day. “I want Cassie to have a great feeling about herself that she has contributed to the success of the company by what she does on a daily basis,” he said. Cassie’s mom, Susan, expressed how grateful she is for the team at Creative Hair Design. “The support is heartwarming,” she said. “Cassie’s boss has sent her flowers for Miss Amazing and they celebrate her birthday. They even all wore purple to celebrate National Down Syndrome Month. It’s been so great to see that John and the whole salon have been supportive of Cassie. She has found a job that she absolutely loves, loves, loves.”

Megan Swanson, 27 from Illinois, moved across the country to pursue her dream job. With a passion for film and Disney, Megan has a Bachelor of Arts in Digital Cinema with a concentration in production from DePaul University. Two years ago, she packed up all of her things and moved to L.A., without a job or a place to live. She was told if she didn’t move then, she never would.

The decision paid off, as two weeks later, Megan got a job working as a film
production coordinator with Light Iron, LLC/Panavision. She later landed a gig as a production assistant at another company. However, the job wasn’t an entirely positive experience. Megan ended up quitting because the people there weren’t accepting of the fact that she couldn’t use walkie-talkies, which are often used on a production set, because of her cochlear implants.

Although she has faced obstacles with a hearing disability, Megan has had many people in her life that have been supportive, like Michael Cioni, her mentor at Light Iron. He has helped Megan in her pursuit for her dream job, and her experience with Miss Amazing has helped her, too. Thanks to Miss Amazing, Megan has become less shy and more comfortable with herself. Megan currently works as an assistant store manager at Fabletics, an athletic wear company, while searching for production jobs. Her dream job is to become a film producer one day, but she knows she has a tough road ahead. “It’s hard not only for someone in my industry, but with a disability on top of it. I applied to nearly 1,000 jobs in two months. I got two interviews and didn’t get either job.” But Megan doesn’t let that get her down. She is determined to work hard and knows that one day she’ll get there. “I want to break barriers for other people with disabilities,” she said.

Each of these women works hard and loves to work. Most of their experiences have been positive, but there is still a lot of work to be done for people with disabilities in the workforce. These women are paving the way. Hopefully, they will inspire employers to take action. Georgia said it best, “People with disabilities are just like other people, they might just do things a little bit differently. Everyone has something different about themselves. And you never know, they could turn out to be one of your best employees!”


More women with disabilities will gain access to work if we continue to share their stories and support their personal and professional development.

In honor of National Disability Employment month, help provide a platform for more women like Georgia, Cassie, and Megan to share their stories and build important life skills. Donate online today at www.donate.missamazing.org.

Top left: Ashley Rufino, Top right and bottom: Sam Mfinanga
Written by Claire Mathiowetz
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