LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Spectrum News 1 is recognizing and honoring the achievements, contributions and the vitally important roles Kentuckians living with a disability have in the workplace during the month of October.

What You Need To Know

  • October is National Disability Employment Awareness month

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 1.1 million adults in Kentucky live with a disability

  • According to the CDC, 33% or 1 in 3 adults in Kentucky lives with a disability

  • The Center for Accessible Living serves people across much of Kentucky with offices in Louisville, Bowling Green and Murray

Jenny Smith uses a power wheelchair to get around.

She remembers exactly what happened one morning, when she was 16 years old. She was doing something that was very easy for her as a gymnast.

“I was outside tumbling and the grass was wet. So, when I took off for a lay-out, my feet slipped out from underneath me and I didn’t have enough height or rotation to make it all the way around and I landed face-first in the grass and I heard a ‘pop’ when I landed and lost all feeling and all movement.” Smith, who works as a human resources member care associate, told Spectrum News 1, “So I knew that I had hurt my spinal cord and actually I did. I have a C6-7 spinal cord injury, which left me paralyzed from the chest down and without the use of my hands.”

Smith felt like she lost everything at the time, but she had a great support network of family and friends. It was hard, but through the years, other women living with disabilities proved to be her biggest source of support.

“And getting to learn from them and seeing what was possible.” Smith explained.

She started working at 15… but because of her injury, didn’t start working again until after her freshman year of college. She’s had several jobs over the years. Including distributing wheelchairs in developing countries like Costa Rica and Afghanistan. She’s worked in human resources for the last 13 years.

“I feel like I’ve had 2 very different experiences.” Smith explained. “When I worked with the organization that distributed wheelchairs, they were used to people with disabilities. So, moving to this position, I feel like I was breaking everyone in a little bit. It was a very different experience. Good, but just different. I was also using a whole new skill set, so just like anyone else, I was having to learn a new job and learn exactly what my role looked like.”

Data from the CDC says just over 1.1 million Kentucky adults live with a disability. That’s equal to 1 in 3 adults. David Allgood has served those with special needs for 22 years.

“We assist people with disabilities to live as independently in a setting of their choice in the community to be as independent in the community, on their own and we try to empower them, educate them,” Allgood, the Director of Advocacy for the Center for Accessible Living explained.

The Center for Accessible Living serves people in the Louisville, Murray and Bowling Green areas. Since the early 1980s, they’ve provided a variety of free resources and services to thousands of people. Like job readiness training, job placement and career advancement.

“It gives you a real sense of satisfaction and helpfulness of being able to help the people with disabilities to be as independent as they possibly can,” Allgood explained.

Allgood said the minority with the highest unemployment rate are people with disabilities. He says an entire workforce is ready.

“We have a lot of hurdles and barriers to get over, but once we get over those, studies have shown that people with disabilities call out sick less and show up on time more often, when they have reliable transportation, then their non-disabled peers. So, they are a good workforce that hopefully employers will tap into,” Allgood said.

Smith has her own reliable transportation to get where she needs and wants. When she’s not at work, she does a lot. She is a writer with her own blog, website and YouTube page. She’s also a published author.

“I keep busy! There’s usually things that I need to prepare for in the evenings.” Smith said while driving in her van. “Right now, it’s a couple different speeches that I’m working on that I’ll be presenting.”

Smith also does community outreach and speaks to several groups. Over the years, she’s learned three important lessons.

“Just to live with hope and I have a responsibility to pass my hope onto others. I think we all do.” Smith explained. “Finally, be willing to take a risk, because none of this would be possible that I do, without first taking a risk.”