Finding a decent job and living alone is not such a complicated matter for most people, but for those with disabilities, life can be more than a hassle. Although the United States government has the Americans with Disabilities Act which prohibits employers and housing providers from discriminating against people with disabilities, according to advocates, prejudice continues to challenge the independence of disabled persons.
Consuella Mackey was confronted with this harsh reality, when she was temporarily disabled some 20 years ago. During a game of football at a family function, Mackey made a wrong move and broke her foot, resulting in temporary confinement to a wheelchair. This brought her face to face with some of the hardships many disabled people face.
“Still having to work and take care of my two very small children, I found society could care less about my disability,” said Mackey, who was raised in New Orleans and now lives in Los Angeles. After feeling insignificant and experiencing the inconveniences of a wheelchair, such as the lack of access to buses and difficulty negotiating the sidewalk, she realized that others faced these and worse issues every day.
Inspired by this experience, Mackey established Operation Confidence (OC) in 1980. OC’s mission is to help individuals with physical disabilities make an easy transition into the workplace and live a more productive life, explained Mackey, who discovered that not only are there mobility restrictions, but it is also difficult to live independently, when you are physically disabled. She says employers too often discriminate, and the proper housing is scarce.
In its 28-year-long history, Operation Confidence has assisted more than 11,000 individuals. Through job fairs, outreach programs, and a “Dress to Success” program, OC helps disabled people obtain respectable employment and live independently.
The “Dress to Success” program is stationed at Mackey’s hair salon, “The Magic Comb” located on Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles. The salon is not your typical beauty shop, because it is furnished especially for wheelchair users and caters to their motion restrictions. Mackey restores her clients’ confidence when she shows them ways to fashionably dress themselves and style their own hair professionally for the workplace.
Mackey custom tailors business suits and other professional clothing for both men and women wheelchair users.
“There is already a negative connotation when going in for a job, by us living in such a vain society (but) if that person comes in fashionably and professionally groomed, they have a better chance.”
OC has been nationally recognized by various organizations and public officials including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The non-profit works closely with agencies like the United African Federation and the Los Angeles Minority Business Opportunity Committee to provide jobs, housing, and other necessary services and resources. Some organizations provide computers, jobs, and volunteers for OC.
On Oct. 24 and 25, Mackey will take Operation Confidence to New Orleans to host the First Annual Disability Empowerment Expo, in collaboration with Louisiana’s major universities. OC’s own Totally Confidence Fashion Models, dancers, and other performers and sports teams–all of whom are part of the disabled community–will showcase their talents. The expo will also include seminars and workshops for parents with disabilities and parents whose children have disabilities.
To raise money for the expo, Operation Confidence will host a tribute to Linda Hopkins Sept. 20 at the California African American Museum. Mackey urges people to get involved. “Help us establish an inclusive community. Despite their disability, give them a chance. That person may have to get it done differently, but they’ll get it done.”
For more information, visit www.operationconfidence.org or call (323) 934-2855.