Raising awareness: Lawrence initiatives assists those with disabilities


Jason Bohannon is a 41-year-old general labor contractor in Lawrence. He is also deaf.

“I don’t think being deaf keeps me from getting jobs,” Bohannon, who does not speak, said through a texting app. “But sometimes it would help if businesses and churches and stores tried to accommodate the deaf community.”

Penny Neeson from Oaklandon is a 61-year-old mother of a son with Down syndrome. Robert Neeson, 35, also has autism and is non-verbal.

“I’m always happy when the community begins embracing activities and opportunities for those who have challenges,” Penny Neeson said. “In addition to what’s in place, having respite care is a needed resource for me and many others.

“We appreciate those who provide help.”

Two years ago, City of Lawrence officials took steps to provide help by creating the Lawrence Advisory Council on Disabilities. It is comprised of five residents employed in health care, plus the chair, Janette Jackson, who is also HR director in Mayor Steve Collier’s administration.

Today, the LACD is more active than ever. In the next month alone, it will organize several major initiatives:

  • The Disability Resource Fair during the first week of March, just in time to recognize National Disability Awareness Month
  • Ongoing council meetings, open to the public, on the second Thursday of the month.
  • The Employment Empowerment Project

The Disability Resource Fair is being coordinated under the supervision of the LACD and Jackson, its chair. The event will bring together representatives of more than 30 organizations, along with information about their services.

“I’m excited for the upcoming fair,” Jackson said. “We know many families may not know where to start to find resources to help with the journey of education, health care, therapy, housing, or support groups. So, we want to make this available for our city and the surrounding communities.”

One of the 30 vendors who will be represented is ACCESSability of Lawrence, a disability rights organization. Jessica Minor, director of Programs & Assessment, will be one of the agency’s representatives.

“We will provide information on who we serve, plus the services and resources we provide,” Minor said.

Minor also said she’s excited about the LACD and its openness to hear from the community.

“The projects of this new council are so important,” Minor said. “People with disabilities need to be included in all aspects of the community and need to be heard. Creating the Lawrence Council on Disabilities is an extremely important part of this. This council allows people with disabilities to be brought to the table.”

Jackson said she agrees and said one of her goals is to get more people to attend monthly council meetings.

Jackson also said the Employment Empowerment Project is an important LACD initiative.

“In 2021, only 21.3 percent of Americans age 16 and over with disabilities were working or actively looking for work, far below the 67.1 percent rate for Americans without disabilities,” Jackson said. “Businesses can help change this statistic by participating in LACD’s Employment Empowerment Project.”

The hope is that through the Employment Empowerment Project, employers will make the job application process more accessible to people, especially with cognitive disabilities. The council is looking for businesses that would participate by creating simple, short videos about their available job openings — something that is easier for many people with disabilities to understand. Jackson said the LACD is open to creative alternatives that businesses have to the traditional job interview.

Penni Neeson, whose son has Down syndrome, agrees.

“My biggest advice would be for families to get involved,” she said. “Connect with other parents, teach others about special needs people, and tell them that they are more alike than different. If that means going to some meetings, then do it.”

Open meetings of the Lawrence Advisory Committee on Disabilities are held the second Thursday of the month. The public is invited to the next meetings, March 9 and April 13, at the Lawrence Government Center, 9001 E. 59th St., Suite 301. Meetings are from 6 to 7 p.m.

Disability Resource Fair at a glance

Where: Fortune Academy, 5626 Lawton Loop E Dr., Indianapolis

When: 5 to 7:30 p.m. March 2

Sponsor: Fortune Academy

Organizer:  Lawrence Advisory Council on Disabilities

Highlights:  More than 30 resource booths, interactive learning activities, raffle

For more:  [email protected]