Elliot Walte of Bloomingdale is a 22-year-old who enjoys spending time with family and friends, dreaming about what the future holds, and working hard at a job he loves.
He also has Down syndrome and, like others with developmental and intellectual disabilities, knows firsthand that getting a job and participating in the workforce is challenging.
But that could become a little easier. Recently, Walte stood at Gov. Pat Quinn's side at the Thompson Center in Chicago as the governor signed historic legislation that will break down barriers to employment for people with disabilities and promote Illinois as an "Employment First" state.
Nationally, workforce participation for adults with intellectual disabilities such as Walte's is below 25 percent.
"Every person in the Land of Lincoln should have the opportunity -- regardless of the challenges they face -- to pursue their dreams and achieve their full potential," Quinn said.
"My goal is to make Illinois the nation's leading employer of people with disabilities. We've made historic progress to change Illinois through our Rebalancing Initiative, and today we are breaking down more barriers to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities in our state."
Walte received the assistance he needed through the Illinois Department of Rehabilitation Services and Ray Graham Association for People with Disabilities.
"The first time I met Elliott I saw the qualities any employer would look for -- motivation, determination and a great personality," said Ray Graham Association employment specialist Bob Griffin.
Through Griffin's assistance, Walte was able to explore employment opportunities, practice interviewing and receive on-the-job support to learn the skills he needed.
The services Walte received are at the heart of the Employment First legislation, according to Kim Zoeller, president and CEO of Ray Graham Association, one of the leading providers of services to people with disabilities in Illinois.
The legislation says that programs and services helping people with disabilities find employment should consider as a first option placement in a competitive and integrated work environment.
Zoeller sees the Employment First legislation is an important step forward for Illinois, one that will yield tremendous long-term benefits not only for people with disabilities, but for local communities too.