Back to Work

Back to Work

According to the Department of Labor, the unemployment rate of persons with a disability was 13.1% as of March 2009. Comparatively, the unemployment rate for non-disabled workers was 8.9%. The unemployment rate for individuals with disabilities has been higher than the unemployment rate of individuals without disabilities for years. The more glaring statistic involves the number of disabled individuals in the work force. As of March 2009, 70.9% of non-disabled persons were in the labor force. Conversely, only 22.8% of persons with a disability are currently working.

Vocational rehabilitation

According to the Amputee Coalition of America (ACA), there are an estimated 1.7 million people living with limb loss. Amputees entering the workforce must endure numerous challenges in their day-to-day lives.

“It is a challenge to overcome the adjustment of a disability,” Denise Verchimak, director of vocational services for the department of labor and industries said. “Then they must think vocationally, how do I move forward from here?”

One of the ways an amputee can move forward is through the use of vocational rehabilitation. Vocational rehabilitation offers counseling for amputees and disabled individuals striving to maintain their current employment or seek and obtain new employment. During face-to-face interviews, vocational rehabilitation counselors assist individuals in selecting their vocational goals, services and service providers. According to office of vocational rehabilitation Web site, there is no cost for diagnostic, counseling or employment placement.

“If they’re coming from a situation where they have had a long-standing existing job, one of the primary concerns is how can they get back to their job or how can that job restructure or how can I learn to perform my tasks differently so I can still do that particular job,” Verchimak told O&P Business News.

The office of vocational rehabilitation can assess a disabled individual’s worksite in order to determine what the person would need in terms of being voacationally prepared for employment with a disability.

“Sometimes you may have to restructure the job,” Verchimak said. “Sometimes you have to have the person perform the job differently and sometimes it’s just a matter of getting a person an orthosis or prosthesis so they can do the job like before.”

Assistive technology

Vocational rehabilitation offers counseling for disabled individuals striving to maintain their current employment or seek and obtain new employment.

In order for employers to embrace assistive technology (AT) in the workforce, they need to understand how to incorporate it into their daily operations. The Department of Labor, Office of Disabled Employment Policies (ODEP) recently issued a report entitled, “Roadmaps II for Enhancing Employment of People with Disabilities through Assistive Technology”. The report outlines the barriers of AT for the disabled individuals in the workforce and also considers their solutions.

Some barriers highlighted in the report include the lack of knowledge of AT equipment by employers. This could lead to the employer not understanding how the disabled individual can perform their job. Many employers and job applicants are unaware of AT devices and services available to them. The paper points out that this lack of knowledge may lead to misperceptions about disabled worker’s abilities to perform their job properly. With employers looking to cut costs, purchasing AT or upgrading existing technology may prove to be too costly for businesses.

Solutions highlighted in the report include raising awareness of federally funded AT programs. In order to accomplish this, organizations implementing programs related to AT, the federal government and the business community need to work together, according to the report. Employers may be eligible for state tax credit programs which will lessen the cost of purchasing AT, according to the report. Raising awareness of AT programs will help employers and disabled workers gain knowledge that may prove helpful to their businesses and bottom line. The report recommended AT programs develop partnerships with employers in order to “overcome the concerns, myths and lack of awareness about AT in the workforce.”

Help Wanted

Here are just a few of the many Web sites disabled job candidates and employers can turn to in order to find information on employment:

Partnered with 21 other federal agencies, is a Web site all disabled individuals should visit in order to gather vital information about employment opportunities. According to its Web site it, “provides access to disability-related information and programs available across the government on numerous subjects, including benefits, civil rights, community life, education, employment, housing, health, technology and transportation.”

The Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) provides helpful resources for the employer looking for an employee with a disability including labor market information, demographic trends and recommended flexible work arrangements. It also lists the economic benefits to recruiting, hiring and retaining individuals with disabilities.

According to the ODEP Web site, “ODEP employs a comprehensive strategy of public education, outreach, and evidence-based policy research and demonstrations to reach employers, businesses and the disability community concerning the most effective ways to tap the underutilized talents of workers with disabilities.”

According to the ADA web site, “The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) ensures equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employment, State and local government services, businesses that are public accommodations or commercial facilities and in transportation,”.

The ADA Web site provides resources and links to federal sites as well as ADA publications. A link on its home page provides a 10 lesson business course for employers. The course offers advice for employers who want to reach out to customers with disabilities.


Recruitment and hiring

Joyce Bender, president and chief executive officer of Bender Consulting Services, a for-profit company that focuses on competitive employment for Americans with disabilities, finds that almost all her clients come to her with little or no work experience. In fact, adding the 22.8% of disabled individuals in the workforce with 13.1% of unemployed disabled persons, the total percentage of disabled persons looking for a job or currently employed is 35.9%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This indicates that as of March 2009, 64.1% of disabled Americans are not in the workforce.

“What is sad is that over 60% of Americans with significant disabilities are not even being counted in the workforce,” Bender said.

Therefore, Bender helps disabled individuals gain employment at the entry level position.

“I meet people who may have a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree but they do not have work experience,” Bender explained. “Someone has to give them a chance.”

Hoping to buck the trend, Lime, a non-profit corporate partner organization that focuses on connecting university students and alumni with disabilities, has found that there are many companies that want to target the talent pool of disabled college graduates. Lime hosts campus and lateral recruitment events that lead to internships and full time positions in finance, computer design, marketing, supply chain management and other front office career opportunities.

While companies want to hire disabled individuals, many do not understand the avenues at their disposal to meet with disabled job candidates and hire someone with a quality education.

“We’ve found that many corporations who want to hire people have three questions,” Susan Lang, president and chief executive officer of Lime explained to O&P Business News. “Where do we go, what do we do and how do we do it?”

The lack of company education involving the hiring of persons with disabilities is a contributing factor to the low employment rate among the disabled. With the numerous amounts of groups and organizations at their fingertips, it is hard for Bender to believe that companies do not know where to turn if they are looking for disabled job candidates.

“There are groups across the country that [companies] can contact if they really want to,” Bender said. “And ‘want to’ does not mean one phone call.”

Companies that do hire the disabled tend to hire for lower level jobs.

“In many cases, companies may think that they are doing a lot in disability employment and they are doing some great work, but they are doing it at the lower levels,” Lang explained. “They are not opening the employment window to all the positions they are seeking to fill.”— by Anthony Calabro

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