Employment Gateway featured in Huffington Post article by Disability Advocate Brian Dooley

You can read the article on Huffington Post's website here, and below.

North Carolina's Enrichment Center Offers People With Disabilities Gateway to Employment by Brian Dooley, as featured on Huffington Post's Accessibility website: 

This act does something important for American business, though -- and remember this: You've called for new sources of workers. Well, many of our fellow citizens with disabilities are unemployed. They want to work, and they can work, and this is a tremendous pool of people. And remember, this is a tremendous pool of people who will bring to jobs diversity, loyalty, proven low turnover rate, and only one request: the chance to prove themselves.

          -- George H.W. Bush, at the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act

July 26, 2015 will mark the 25th anniversary of the American with Disabilities Act. The landmark civil rights law protects over 57 million Americans with disabilities, according to the U.S. Census Bureau

Title 1 of the act protects individuals with disabilities' right to employment, with reasonable accommodations if necessary, as long as he or she can perform the essential functions of the job. Despite the law, unemployment in the disability community is still disproportionately higher than the national average of 5.3 percent.

According to an article in Disability Scoop published in April 2015, the jobless rate among individuals with disabilities was 11.7 percent in March.

Fortunately, organizations like the Enrichment Center offer programs to help people with disabilities find employment. Robin Ragsdale, employment specialist manager at the Center's Employment Gateway, describes the program from start to finish.

"Employment referrals from Vocational Rehabilitation are assigned to an employment specialist by ZIP code if possible," said Ragsdale. "An employment specialist from the enrichment center and a VR counselor schedule an appointment for an intake and counselor meeting with the individual. The three develop a plan for employment. The plan is always person centered, meaning it's built around the person with a disability's employment goals. This plan or employment goal can change at the individual's request."

"If a person is unsure about what type of work they want, the individual and the employment specialist can do a 'job sample,'" said Ragsdale. Where the employment specialist arranges with a community employer for the person to experience what the job entails, in a true to life setting so they can experience different types of jobs to ensure that the individual will be happy with the job placement. This plan must include the number of hours the individual wants to work and a plan for transportation.

The employment specialist will gather information needed for job applications, up to five per week. The individual may come up with job leads. Once the individual lands an interview, the team will practice interview skills.

Once the job is obtained, VR must approve the match. The Employment Specialist remains involved through the job transition period, until the employee becomes competent in the job.

They provide the following services on the job site:

  • Maintain contact to discuss the employee's progress
  • Attend orientation to become familiar with the employer's policies and procedures
  • Learn the job inside and out to become a subject expert
  • Assist the new employee in getting the most from the employer's training
  • Stay with the employee during the shift to provide one-on-one coaching
  • Identify accommodations to make the employee more effective
  • Address the employer's issues and concerns immediately

Olivia Insignares describes the feelings job coaches get after a successful placement.

"We go on job sites with the individuals," said Insignares. "One day I saw a man I was working with successfully complete a transaction by himself. In the corner, I celebrated quietly. You can ask other job coaches, it's very rewarding to know that the accommodations we make impact individuals with disabilities in positive ways."

Employment Gateway is always looking for more community partners to hire people with disabilities. According to Insignares, there are a few things that set good businesses apart.

"They should see themselves as part of the community, and want to see diversity in their business," said Insignares. "A good employer is on the floor working alongside their employees."

There are already many appreciated partners of the program, such as Lowe's Home Improvement, Lowe's Foods and Walgreen's, along with many others.

Any local businesses who are interested in partnering with the program are encouraged to research the Employment Gateway program further.

According to those interviewed, hiring people with disabilities brings with it many positives. In the experience of the Employment Gateway Program staff, working with people with disabilities improves morale and impresses customers who might know others with disabilities.

When asked if they had a message for employers both Ragsdale and Insignares replied that contrary to what some readers might think, people with disabilities don't contribute to more on the job accidents. Those with disabilities tend to be hard workers who take so much pride in having a job that tere is less absenteeism.

Insignares aptly summarizes the mission of Employment Gateway.

"When I was a post-grad with no job, someone extended their hand to me and I never forgot that. What it felt like to be given an opportunity because someone gave me a chance; I am happy to be able to facilitate others to give people that chance just as I was given."

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