2023-24 National APSE Board Member: Larissa Beck, MN
The area(s) that best represents your current position/experience:
Family Member of a Person with a Disability, Service Provider or Manager
Describe your history/nature of involvement/interest in promoting competitive integrated employment in your state. Additionally, explain why you are passionate about competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities (no more than 500 words):
When I first came into the disability services world in 2009, I knew I wanted to help people move forward, particularly by providing access to much-needed services and resources. So many of the people that we work with don’t know what options are available to them, and at that time, neither did I. When I began this journey, one person I was working with wanted to find a job, so that is what we did. Within two weeks he had a job he loved. It seemed like a straightforward process, not something overly difficult or unusual. The next person I worked with told me her story and opened my eyes; I was shocked to learn that people were both paid a sub-minimum wage and it was both legal and commonplace. Once she found competitive, integrated employment with equitable compensation, she found access to the community she didn’t know or think was possible. She made friends, found purpose, and as we all do in our jobs, found part of her identity. We all take pride in what we do for work, as it, in part, defines who we are. I believe that everyone has the right to find this for themselves. I have only worked in competitive integrated employment and have seen firsthand how employment for those that we support can help change lives, create meaning, and help to find purpose and passion. For the past year, I have been a part of Minnesota’s Task for Eliminating Sub-minimum Wages. Through this work, I have been able to dive into the policy and systems work needed to make a difference on a macro level so others can gain access to both competitive, integrated employment and their community. The disability services systems that we work in are large and complex; however, we have the tools, knowledge, and access to quality training and research to make substantial changes and help to extend the access to those who don’t have it. I have been honored to be a positive force for change within Minnesota and look forward to additional opportunities to continue to influence at the national level.
What relevance does/should APSE and its chapters/members have in national and state conversations regarding equity, diversity, and inclusion (no more than 350 words)?
I believe that the conversations about equity, diversity, and inclusion are paramount to APSE moving the mission to advance employment first in today’s world. Disability as a social identity knows no bounds; it can cross with all other social identities for anyone, at any time. With this, we as APSE need to be intentional and purposeful with EDI conversations to make an impact in the field. We cannot have token conversations, we need to have truly engaged, meaningful conversations that create a space for open and honest conversations with vulnerability, kindness, and compassion. We all have some form of privilege that we should reflect on. In addition, we need to closely examine the oppressive and discriminatory systems that perpetuate the need for EDI conversations. This is the only way we can enact permanent, positive change. I received my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Ethnic Studies in 2009, focusing on a diversity of theories of race and ethnicity, and research methods. It is important for us to look at the history of how we got here, and how it has impacted others and seek to understand how to do better going forward. EDI is a big topic, and while it affects people differently, we all need to participate in both the conversations and changes needed.
What skills, knowledge or lived experience do you have that will contribute to strengthening and growing the financial health of APSE and promoting its mission to advance employment and self-sufficiency for all people with disabilities (no more than 350 words)?
To promote APSE’s mission of advancing employment and self-sufficiency for people with disabilities, I see the most important avenue as expanding and building connections with other advocacy groups. To grow in meaningful ways, APSE needs to bring in other perspectives, which will strengthen the cultural and financial health of the organization by bringing others into the mission. MN APSE has a goal to be able to build these connections and partnerships with lead agencies, advocacy organizations, and legislators to both advance the mission around employment and grow and maintain our membership. This is one of the main goals of MN APSE’s Community Engagement Committee for the upcoming year. My son has a disability and I regularly advocate for his needs, which provides me with insight into how difficult it is to navigate the various systems. My career is in disability services, and I also use the same services and supports that I recommend to those I work with on behalf of my son. This perspective allows me to be able to better understand the issues, lack of availability, and difficulties with access to the systems that others face. The juxtaposition between navigating these services professionally and personally has taught me about the importance of true inclusion and helped me form genuine connections with others based on lived experience as well as the passion to continue to push for continued equality, equity, and inclusion.
Larissa Beck always knew she wanted to work with and advocate for others. She graduated from Minnesota State University, Mankato in 2009 with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Ethnic Studies, focusing on a diversity of theories of race and ethnicity, and research methods. When working with people with different types of intersectionality, their stories often reveal discrimination and lack of access. That is what has guided her career and lead to her prioritization of access, inclusion, and independence for those who have been historically excluded, specifically those with disabilities. When more people are at the table making decisions, better results are reached. Unfortunately, having access to the table is oftentimes the problem. Larissa has worked at Reach for Resources since 2009, starting there as a Community Living Specialist where she helped those she worked with live independently and work in competitive integrated jobs. She started Reach’s Employment Services department and became the Director of Community Living and now oversees the Employment Services, In-Home Services, and Housing Services. Larissa has been on the board of MN APSE since 2017, first serving on the Community Engagement Committee and then becoming Chair in 2019. One of the goals of the Committee is to partner with different groups; advocacy organizations, transition programs, self-advocates, etc., to be able to spread the vision and mission of Employment First. In 2021, Minnesota developed the Task Force to Eliminate Subminimum Wages, which she was appointed to and has served on for the past year. The charge of the Task Force is to make recommendations to phase out payment of subminimum wages to people with disabilities on or before August 1, 2025. The plan has two categories, the first is a transition plan for ending sub-minimum wages and the second category addresses barriers and strengthens the system. Larissa enjoys spending time with her family and having dance parties with her kids. She loves music and has regular full concerts in her car, as well as shows with the band she sings in. Larissa likes to spend as much time as possible outside, embracing all the seasons Minnesota has.