October: A Month to Celebrate and Give Back

October is one of my favorite months–possibly my very favorite–for many reasons. Long-time readers and even casual acquaintances are quite familiar with my passion for Halloween (you’ll see some Halloween posts here as the holiday gets closer–and feel free to search “Halloween” in my blog for previous posts!). Crunchy leaves, crisp (but not cold) air, autumn soups, apple-picking, so many festive opportunities…what’s not to love? As one of my favorite literary heroines famously said, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers” (L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables).

Image result for i m so glad i live in a world with octobers

–Pinterest User iBelieve.com

October is also the month for celebrating important awareness occasions, like National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) and Breast Cancer Awareness Month–two observations that are a focus for me both at work and personally. While I’ve written about NDEAM for work with Marianjoy in the past, and continue to do so, I’m looking forward to writing about breast cancer awareness, as well, for Northwestern Medicine’s Marketing Team, having had the exciting opportunity to work more closely with them lately. How lucky we are to have top cancer and rehabilitation programs right here in the Midwest! Breast cancer has always hit close to home for me, with several family members and friends as survivors, and more friends who are currently battling the disease.

Besides writing, I decided to take the observation one step further. Financial donations are great to help with breast (and other types of) cancer; without funding, research projects to eradicate the disease wouldn’t be possible–and so I try to donate to cancer charities a couple of times a year (check out Charity Navigator to find one that fits you and has a good stewardship score). There’s another type of donation, too, that most people might not think of right away, one that requires your time, not money: hair.

It wasn’t until my traumatic brain injury in 2005, when part of my head had to be shaved for brain surgery, that I realized how important hair is to identity. For women, it’s inextricably tied in millennia-long trends denoting femininity, fertility, sexuality, youth, conservatism/rebellion, professionalism…the list goes on. For 19-year-old me, it was one of the hardest changes to my appearance I had to get used to, partly because I had no choice in the sudden change–just like cancer patients. It made me very self-conscious–with my eye patch and wheelchair, it was just one more thing broadcasting to the world that I was going through a major medical experience. And what if I wasn’t ready to share that?

Luckily for me, it was only part of my head, and I was able to do quite the comb-over to cover the bald side until my hair grew in. I always joked that Rihanna soon after took my cue and made the style a trend.

(You’re welcome, RiRi)

Fortunately, my hair grew in fairly quickly, and when it reached a point where I could get it cut into layers, I decided to donate the rest to those who were less fortunate. It felt good, the thought of helping others, when so many had been helping me.

I decided to do it again…22 months ago. Unlike my first time donating, the thought popped into my head when all of my hair was short, so I knew I was in for a long road. Over those 22 months, I only got one trim–it helped that I stayed away from heat-treating my hair, so I didn’t have to worry (much) about split ends.

The experience reminded me of the way the religious customs can remind you physically of spiritual meaning (like the practice of giving something up for Lent reminding Catholics of Jesus’s ultimate sacrifice). Although I sometimes enjoy having long hair, there were many times were I couldn’t wait to get it cut again–it felt so unruly to me, but I reminded myself this hair wasn’t for me–it was for someone else. It was a good exercise in patience.

My mom made the growing process more fun with some elaborate hairstyles–some so beautiful I second-guessed cutting the hair:

Thanks, Mom! ❤

I went to my hair stylist a few times to get a length check, and finally, I was ready. I already knew the charity I wanted to donate to: Wigs 4 Kids, an organization in Michigan that provides wigs to kids and young adults for free. It’s important to research where you will donate your hair, because some organizations charge patients for their wigs (it’s a laborious process to make them, so I understand, but I’d prefer the patients to get their wigs for free). It’s also important to know how long you need to grow your hair, if it can be dyed, if it can be gray, etc., before you make the chop–each organization is different. Wigs 4 Kids requires 10″, and after my hair stylist evened it out, I had just over that to donate.


Megan, my hair stylist, is very familiar with prepping hair to donate. It’s important to section off and secure the part that will be donated before you cut it, so it doesn’t fly all over the place. She made four braids.

Moment of truth. Even though I wanted the haircut, it’s always initially intimidating to me to part with so much hair all at once!

Done; I loved it! It was hard to believe all that hair was in that silver bag.

I really appreciated Megan’s help in getting my hair ready to go; I was happy she was so familiar with donating. After that, it was just a matter of mailing the braids to the address on the organization’s website.

I never feel better than when I’m helping others and giving back in some way. Ever since my miraculous TBI survival, I’ve felt a mission to help others as I was helped. With time and patience, hair donation is an easy and inexpensive way to help people–I highly recommend doing it, if you can. I’ve mentally committed to doing it again, though I may go for one with a shorter requirement (360 Hair looks like they take 6″ or more–sounds good to me!).

I wish you all a wonderful remainder of your October. I hope you get to enjoy your favorite traditions, and I hope you take a moment to celebrate those other important observances, too.

National Disability Employment Awareness Month & AbilityLinks

Hello, readers! I hope you are enjoying your October. There are so many fun holidays this month–but there are some more serious ones, too.

Clipart Cemetery With A Jackolantern Tombstones And Ghosts Under A Full Moon With Bats Royalty Free Vector Illustration by visekart

No, I’m not talking about haunted graveyards. I’m talking about National Disability Employment Month (NDEAM), and although it lasts all of October, it’s something that can (and should!) be celebrated all year long. It’s an important one, considering the unemployment rate for job-seekers with disabilities is double the national average. However, with the recent passing of some new federal rules about hiring people with disabilities, that number will hopefully go way down.

I’d like to share a blog post I did for AbilityLinks last year about NDEAM, accompanied by some new information below.

The 2013 NDEAM poster consists of four circles—each depicting a successfully employed worker with a disability, and each worker equal to the task they are performing.  Poster background colors range from bright green at the bottom to light blue at the top.  Centered at the top is DOL’s logo with the Office of Disability Employment Policy, United States Department of Labor next to it. Below this header are the words of the theme:  Because We Are EQUAL to the Task.  The words at the bottom include National Disability Employment Awareness Month, What Can YOU Do? and ODEP’s website: www.dol.gov/odep/

NDEAM Poster for 2013

By Amanda Fowler 24. October 2012 07:44

October is one of our favorite months here at Marianjoy’s AbilityLinks: the leaves are changing colors; autumn festivals are in full swing; pumpkin-flavored EVERYTHING has entered cafés and restaurants; two favorite holidays are celebrated—Sweetest Day and Halloween. Our most favorite reason to celebrate, though, is that October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM).

The idea for NDEAM began almost seventy years ago, in 1945, in an effort by Congress to employ more people with physical disabilities. (One likely reason for this historical timing was the large number of returning veterans who had acquired new physical disabilities during their service.) As the understanding of disability expanded, so, too, did awareness. In 1962, the program broadened to include people with all types of disabilities, not just physical. In 1988, the observance received its current name and expanded from a week to a month.

NDEAM is officially under the direction of the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP). The organization offers many resources for companies to participate in the campaign, including posters, articles, and more. Its theme this year: “A Strong Workforce is an Inclusive Workforce: What Can YOU Do?” certainly is a call to action. Does your company participate?

One way in which AbilityLinks celebrated this event was by hosting its triannual online job fair in the beginning of the month, from October 1–5. A record number of people participated on all fronts, including 180 job-seekers and 21 employers. Both job-seekers and employers were from all around the country—a reminder that you don’t have to be in the Chicagoland area to use AbilityLinks.

The companies that participated were: Space Telescope Science Institute; Convergys Recruiting; Convergys Corporation; State of Illinois Disabled Workers Program; Domino Printing; ECRI Institute; Internal Revenue Service; Employment Options; AGB Investigative Services, Inc.; Balfour Beatty Construction; GC Services; Farmland Foods, Inc.; G.C. Services LP; J. Craig Venter Institute; Océ North America—A Canon Group Company; Advocate Health Care; FishNet Security; Big Tent Jobs, LLC; Nicor Gas, an AGL Resources Company; Fenwal Inc.; and, of course, Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital. Congratulations to Ken Skord, Janice Duvall, and Bill O’Connor for a well-run job fair. Those who participated said they found it very useful.

Make sure to watch for next year’s AbilityLinks online job fair—but you don’t have to wait until then to attend an AbilityLinks event. Check out our event calendar for more information. [Note: the next AbilityLinks.org job fair will be February 18–20, 2014; the last one was earlier this month, October 8–10, 2013].

How do you feel about NDEAM? Does your company participate—do you wish it did? (Here is a guide from the Department of Labor with tips on how to be more inclusive.) Are there other ways you think that AbilityLinks can participate? Please leave any comments here—we’d love to hear from you!

Enjoy the rest of our favorite month—maybe you could post an NDEAM flyer on your way to get your pumpkin latte.


Now, for a bit of an update on my last post about legal initiatives for disability. Although the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990, and it did make a lot of improvements for people with disabilities, the unemployment level (14.1%) and poverty level (29%) for people with disabilities are still way too high. Those aforementioned legal initiatives were just part of a bigger plan, a huge wave of social activism to improve opportunities for people with disabilities. In August, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) of the U.S. Department of Labor released two final rules requiring at least 7 percent of the workforces for federal contractors to be people with disabilities. And with federal contractors (and subcontractors) comprising 10% of the national workforce, that means a LOT of people! Woohoo! I am so excited people with disabilities will be getting more of a chance to work. As someone with a disability myself, I value being able to work, contributing my skills and passions in helping create great end results for Marianjoy. I wish the same opportunity for everyone.

3d white disabled business person with a laptop on his legs, working with a workmate  . 3d image. Isolated white background. - stock photo