Many workers saluted during Disability Employment Awareness Month

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, a time to celebrate the many contributions of America’s employees with disabilities. This year’s theme is #InclusionWorks.

Twin Cities nonprofit organization Opportunity Partners helped individuals with disabilities land 145 independent, community jobs in 2015, a number that will continue to climb as efforts step up nationwide for full inclusion and increased choices for competitive employment.

However, employment rates for people with disabilities remain very low. In 2015, 17.5 percent of persons with disabilities were employed, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The employment-population ratio of those without a disability was 65 percent. The unemployment rate for persons with a disability was 10.7 percent in 2015, about twice that of those with no disability (5.1 percent). “We want to spread the important message that inclusion works in our community, and together we can advance the quality of life for people with disabilities,” said Opportunity Partners President and CEO Armando Camacho.

 

Seeking an independent job

Matt, 27, was motivated and passionate about getting an independent, community job. He advocated for himself and joined Opportunity Partners’ Job Development Team in September 2015. Matt worked hard in developing his resume and practicing interviewing. He showed great persistence and patience, eventually landing a position as a ticket taker at AMC Theatres in Maple Grove.

In addition to being surrounded by the wonderful popcorn smells and getting to see the latest movies, he enjoys meeting customers and working alongside his coworkers. “Everyone is very nice,” he said.

 

Landing a new job at age 56

For Scott, getting one of his first independent jobs at age 56 proves he is a lifelong learner. In June 2016 he celebrated one year of employment at Dairy Queen.

Scott had worked independent, community jobs earlier in his career but usually they didn’t work out. He didn’t lose sight of his goal to work in a restaurant.

Opportunity Partners Job Developer Rick Grimes helped Scott with application and interviewing skills, and accompanied him on several interviews. Scott took public transit to restaurants, picked up applications and talked to managers. He brought the applications back to Opportunity Partners for staff assistance in completion and then returned them.

Persistence paid off as he was called in for an interview and offered a position at Dairy Queen – the 33rd restaurant to which he applied. The rest is history and with support Scott has been successfully working in his dream job as a dining room attendant – keeping HIS dining room in great condition.

Dairy Queen General Manager Jeremy Mohs said Scott is dependable. “If he doesn’t know how to do something he will ask,” Jeremy said, adding it’s nice to be able to count on him.

 

Brightening the deli with a great attitude

Tonya is all smiles when customers approach her at Driskill’s Downtown Market in Hopkins, where she works in the deli. Her duties include dish-washing, cleaning, filling straws and napkins and helping out however else she can. She has successfully worked there one year and couldn’t be happier.

Working at Opportunity Partners helped Tonya build skills that translated well to her independent job. She now works 25 hours per week, Monday through Friday. “Tonya has been a positive example of what it looks like to successfully reach a goal,” said Opportunity Partners Service Coordinator Rachel Solie. “Tonya’s hard work and dedication to her job prove that she is walking down the road of success all while building self-confidence, self-determination and independence.”

Driskill’s is an outstanding community partner, hiring several individuals from Opportunity Partners and providing a supportive environment where employees can thrive. “Our partnership with Opportunity Partners has been a positive one,” Driskill’s manager Deb Beckman said. “Not only do we have long-term employees who have become independent, but we have had some employees leave and come back.”

Deb added that Tonya is a day-brightener. “Her willingness to do multiple tasks and try to help customers is an example of what we are about … customer service.”

Opportunity Partners is a nonprofit organization that advances the quality of life for more than 2,000 people with disabilities each year. Learn more at opportunities.org