|Student helps prepare disabilities report for the President
RELEASED: April 10, 2003
DANVILLE, KY Centre senior Jessica Hunt will graduate in about a month. She's searching for jobs, but not for herself.
Hunt will be working this summer with the Office of Disability Employment Policy to help all disabled Americans find employment.
The Tompkinsville native, who has cerebral palsy, has always been interested in civil rights. The opportunity to participate on the national level came when U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao appointed Hunt, along with 14 other young people with disabilities, to the Youth Advisory Council to the Presidential Task Force on Employment of Adults with Disabilities in October 2001.
Hunt said her phone interview with Chao was surprisingly informal.
"The very first time Ms. Chao called, she said she just wanted to have a conversation about life," she said. Hunt is excited that Chao will be speaking at Commencement May 25. "I heard her speak at the National Transportation summit," Hunt said. "She'll have a lot of good things to say to us."
Through the President's Task Force, Hunt and the Council advised the Secretary of Labor and her designees on how to remove barriers affecting the lives and, in turn, the employment opportunities for young people with disabilities.
Hunt, a double major in English and French, has worked on revisions of the report from the advisory committee through most of this school year. The final draft was recently submitted, and will be presented to President Bush.
According to Hunt, the main goal of the committee was to examine the Americans with Disabilities Act to be sure the law was covering the demographic it was intended to represent. The group found a number of loopholes in the legislation and will make recommendations on how to improve the law.
"It really is possible for one person or a small group of people to change monumental things," Hunt said.
Though Hunt said she's never been the victim of discrimination on the job herself, she's worried that her brother, who has autism, may have trouble articulating his job skills to an employer.
Hunt finds being an advocate for people who cannot represent themselves an important aspect of her work on the committee.
Milton Reigelman, director of international programs at Centre, helped Hunt plan her study abroad experience in Strasbourg, France, in 2001. He calls her a role model.
"She's winsomely tough, refusing to let her disability prevent her from doing things she's set her mind on, like studying in France," he said. "I remember once looking out the window of my snug office during a heavy rain storm and seeing her make the difficult way to class carrying all her books and other paraphernalia. I thought, 'there's courage.'"
During her trip to Strasbourg, Hunt became aware of the tremendous difficulties faced by people with disabilities traveling through Europe. In the future, she wants to work with European officials on these issues.
"I couldn't travel anywhere without an entourage to help me on and off the trains," she said.
Hunt has clear goals in mind for the future.
"I've never thought of myself as different," Hunt said. "The experience on the committee has opened my eyes to a whole new side of disability. It's opened my eyes to a lot of the things the Americans with Disabilities Act should cover that it doesn't. I plan to change that."
- end -
600 W. Walnut Street
Danville, KY 40422
Public Information Coordinator: Telephone 859-238-5714