SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) –Throughout the month of March, KELOLAND News has been highlighting women who are working to make a difference. The last nominee is Vicki Stewart.
She was diagnosed with O-I Brittle Bone Disease as a child, but that hasn’t stopped her drive to advocate and empower others.
Ever since she was a child, Vicki Stewart has used a wheelchair to move her forward. Now the 52 year old says she uses her chair and her voice to advocate for people with disabilities.
“I think it’s so important for us to have a voice and I feel like just being present, I can raise some awareness,” Vicki said.
Stewart has worked as Executive Director at the Business Resource Network for the last six years.
“It is just everything that I’ve dreamed of, for a job,” Stewart said.
She says her favorite part of her job is providing training and education to businesses about disability etiquette.
“Teach them that there are people with disabilities with gifts and abilities, and they can bring a lot to the workplace,” Stewart said. “We have a disability friendly program through Business Resource Network. So we give any business that employs at least one person with a disability, a disability friendly award.”
When she began her position there were 30 businesses in this program. Now there are 250 in Sioux Falls and surrounding communities. Her goal is to continue to raise the employment rate for those with disabilities.
“I really think there’s an untapped pool of people with disabilities that are really looking for employment. I think people forget that people with disabilities are often really creative, because they have to be creative just to live their daily life,” Stewart.
Stewart’s journey to advocacy began years before her job at BRN. She says it started in 1988 while she was a student at Augustana University. At the time the university was difficult to navigate.
“I believe I was the only person on campus using a wheelchair, living on campus. So there were just the obstacles that I came across like the administration building not being accessible. I had to use the freight elevator in the cafeteria,” Vicki said.
She decided to take action and form her own group of students with disabilities and advocate for change.
“I thought if I don’t speak up for myself, things aren’t going to change and maybe if I speak up for myself, it will make the lives of other students better as well,” Stewart said.
Since then Stewart has continued speaking up for herself and others with events, workshops and her position today. Making sure everyone is included in the community.
“I think a lot of times people with disabilities feel like we’re taking all the time, we need this, we need that. I think it just feels so good to be able to give back to our community, whether that’s serving on a board or volunteering, we have a lot of opportunities in our community, and I want to encourage people with disabilities to get involved,” Stewart said.
Stewart says it’s an honor to be nominated and is proud to represent people with disabilities and women.