By: Steve Reinardy

On Saturday, May 18, I was proud to graduate from the Partners in Policymaking class from the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities that I’ve been taking for the past eight months. 

Full of top-notch, A+ speakers, this class taught people how to be an effective advocate when talking to leaders who make decisions about disability supports and services. In addition to receiving a diploma at my graduation, I walked away with a lot of quality connections and new advocacy opportunities. In my experience so far, once lawmakers hear that I’ve gone through this program, it opens new doors as it enhances my credibility as an advocate.

My participation in and graduation from Partners in Policymaking would not have been possible without the support of my employer, MDI. When I was first hired at MDI 13 years ago, they saw me for my abilities and strengths instead of focusing only on how I was born with Familial Muscular Dystrophy and a stuttering defect. They told me that my strong work ethic, great attitude, and determination would help me be successful in a janitorial position – and I was. Throughout the years I have also excelled at several other positions like assembly, welding, packaging and machine maintenance. In August 2021, I officially began my new safety coordinator role. And earlier this year, the MDI team carved out a part-time advocacy role for me in addition to my safety role. I am grateful to get paid to be an advocate for people with disabilities because it comes naturally to me and I’m passionate about it!

MDI’s commitment to empower all employees inspires me to be heavily involved in my workplace, especially if it has a connection to people or community. In addition to my daily safety and inspection role, I serve as a member of the MDI Cares Council, which funds community initiatives in the four regions where MDI facilities are located. I am also in charge of most of our volunteer programming and am an active MDI advocate year-round, regularly communicating with local legislators and getting my colleagues engaged with issues they care about.

When I look back at where I started my employment journey to where I am today, I feel honored and thankful for the opportunities MDI has given me and for the potential they have seen in me. I also know that it is my integrity, positive attitude and desire to learn new things that have gotten me to where I am today. That is why the biggest piece of advice I would give someone looking to expand their experiences would be to live each day by doing your best and doing the right thing, even when you think nobody is watching – because most of the time, someone is.

Through my time and experience with MDI, I have become a big believer in its mission, vision and values. I also know they care about me, and I feel lucky to work for a company that evaluates employees based on what they can do rather than focusing on their limitations. Most people who have disabilities regularly accomplish great things. They just need a little help!