Independent Living Centers "Equal To The Task" Of Increasing Employment Opportunities For Californians With Disabilities

Oct 07, 2013, 13:38 ET from The California State Independent Living Council (SILC)

SACRAMENTO, Calif., Oct. 7, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- California currently ranks last in the nation for employing people with disabilities. Despite the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, more than two-thirds of Americans with disabilities are still not in the labor market.

Sarah Triano, Executive Officer of the California Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, knows firsthand what it takes to open workforce doors for people with disabilities.  During a presentation on how to be an effective change agent at the California Youth Leadership Forum (YLF), Triano described the personal journey that led her to a successful career. While shaping that career, she learned how to be an effective leader and never let anyone underestimate her or place limitations on her capabilities just because she has a disability.

"Disability is a natural and beautiful part of human diversity, not a tragedy or barrier to be overcome," noted Triano. "The barrier to be overcome is the discrimination we face individually and collectively as people with disabilities, and THAT is something we have the power to do something about loudly, proudly and passionately."

Triano encourages others to "Purposely seek out opportunities to work with people you respect who are making change and then learn from them. Don't just sit back and wait for change to happen – get out there and make it happen because you are a member of the disability community and you have the power to make change happen."

And change often begins through awareness.  October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) with the theme "Because We Are EQUAL to the Task." The purpose of NDEAM is to raise awareness about disability employment issues and celebrate the many and varied contributions of workers with disabilities, including veterans transitioning to civilian life. 

According to State Independent Living Council Executive Director Liz Pazdral, "This year's theme reflects the reality that people with disabilities are educated, trained and have the experience and desire to be successful and included as valued members of the American workforce."

Southern California Rehabilitation Services (SCRS) is one of many Independent Living Centers (ILCs) actively assisting and encouraging people with disabilities to enter the workforce and find fulfilling careers. SCRS Executive Director Jim Baker cited two major employment concerns he and his staff address on a daily basis. First is the lack of available jobs for individuals with disabilities often fueled by misconceptions. Employers who falsely believe people with disabilities are less capable or require expensive accommodations tend to hire people without disabilities.  Despite surveys and studies indicating otherwise, the misconceptions continue to create barriers. 

"People with disabilities are capable individuals who want to work and are willing to show up and work harder to be good employees," noted Baker. "In addition, businesses employing people with disabilities are eligible for on-the-job training for the employees through Vocational Rehabilitation, funding for adaptive equipment and training through the Department of Rehabilitation, tax incentives and more."

Finally, transportation poses a major obstacle for many people with disabilities, especially in the Los Angeles area. Getting to and from work or landing jobs in the vicinity where people live can be challenging. SCRS helps by teaching individuals how to navigate the transportation system or by locating jobs closer to their homes.

An important factor for people with disabilities seeking employment is knowing where to go for assistance. SCRS counselors help develop Individual Employment Plans, facilitate group job clubs, help with resumes, applications and job searches, participate in mock interviews and provide Personal, Vocational, Social Adjustment (PVSA) training. PVSA addresses specific barriers to employment through one-on-one, individualized instruction in a variety of areas such as appropriate workplace interaction, mobility and self-advocacy training, conflict resolution, benefits and resource awareness, personal hygiene and attire and time management.

"By this year end, SCRS will have assisted more than 2,000 people with employment services," Baker said. "We've had employers who were so impressed with the individuals they hired that they came back to us for additional referrals."

Among the many successes Baker has witnessed, one clearly stands out. "We worked with a gentleman in a wheelchair who had a full-time nurse. Although our staff, at first, doubted anyone would hire him, together they pushed ahead until he was employed by a university where he handles job placements for graduates. The university gave him a chance, and he proved himself."

Baker is especially proud of the fact that SCRS is a nonprofit where all funds go back into making change happen by providing disability and employment services and supporting the ILC.

At the federal level, Senator Tom Harkin, Chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions, also is working to make change happen. His recent report outlines several steps to transform the American workforce for people with disabilities. These include increasing support for students transitioning into the workforce or postsecondary education; changing restrictive disability benefit program requirements that prevent people with disabilities from working; correcting misconceptions about employing people with disabilities; and overcoming barriers that prevent businesses from hiring individuals with disabilities.

In a news release announcing this year's NDEAM theme, Kathy Martinez, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy, clearly summed up what needs to be done, "I urge all employers to benefit from the skills of workers with disabilities by giving them, including our returning veterans, a chance to show that they, too, are equal to the task."

The California State Independent Living Council (SILC) is an independent state agency which, in cooperation with the California State Department of Rehabilitation, prepares and monitors the State Plan for Independent Living.

The SILC Mission: To Create Policy and System Change for Independent Living

SOURCE The California State Independent Living Council (SILC)