Are There Jobs for People with Disabilities? (A Look at the MENA Career Expo)

 

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by Eric Pudalov, GCSS Community Events Coordinator

On Wednesday, October 6, people receiving services from GCSS’ EmployABILITY program, along with several employees, attended the 2010 MENA (Metropolitan Employment Networking Association) Disability-Diversity Resources/Career Expo at the AT&T Midtown 2 Building.

The job seekers among us walked in, dressed in button-down shirts, ties, slacks, and Oxford shoes, ready with resume copies.  Even compared to some past Career Expos, this one in particular seemed to have a greater variety of opportunities, either for information and job training, or potential future employment, or all three.

My purpose in attending, however, was not necessarily to seek employment; rather, I was there to interview some of the spokespersons behind the booths and gain some insight into what careers and/or services they offered.

Among the organizations represented were the Georgia Department of Labor, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and DeKalb Workforce Development.

Like at almost any job fair, the prospect can be intimidating for those who are unaccustomed to walking up and talking to strangers.  For someone with a disability (including myself), I imagine this can be extra daunting if we feel unprepared.  However, thanks in no small part to the EmployABILITY program (and its wonderful director, LaRue Griffin), I believe all of the individuals who attended had a positive experience.

Getting a Dialogue Going

Among the most fascinating conversations I had at the job fair that day was that with the founders of 508HelpDesk.com, a service of Section 508 and ADAD Remediation Services who dedicate themselves to making the Web more accessible to people with disabilities.

Essentially what you can do through 508HelpDesk.com, if you spot an accessibility barrier online, is to fill out the Support Ticket System at their site, indicating the Web address which is proving to be a difficulty; details about the problem; what type of computer and software you’re using; and finally, your full name and contact information.  The founders of 508 Help Desk have certainly carved out a wonderful niche in the disability support field, one which I hope can be expanded upon in the years to come.

I also had the wonderful opportunity to speak with Brenston Sharperson and his colleague, both of DeKalb Workforce Development (“Where Workforce Comes Together”).  DWD provides focusing strategies, supervision of the workforce development system, and “resources to upgrade the skills of workers, job seekers, and youth in order to prepare them for future academic and career success.”

Many of those qualified for DWD’s services include people with physical and/or developmental disabilities.  Their programs are fully funded by the U.S. Department of Labor.  Among their services are job search assistance; adult workshops and training programs; a computer lab with Internet access; resume writing and interviewing tips; reading, math, and skill assessments; vocational training; and individual counseling and career planning.  Does this sound like something that you, or someone you know, could use?  Find out more at DeKalb Workforce Development.

Opportunity Knocks

Also present that day were officers from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which falls under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security.  From this conversation, as well as the written information provided by the officers, I gained some insight into their challenging (not to mention important) careers.

Of note: while U.S. Customs’ hiring process formerly took 6-8 months to complete, they state that if you are available for “compressed hiring” (a 30-day process), the routine can move along more quickly.

In  addition, I spoke with a representative from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who also provided me with some information about the variety of careers available in this agency.  There are quite an assortment, mind you; some of the “mission critical” positions include: archaeologist, botanist, cartographer, chemist, civil engineer, contract specialist, fish and wildlife biologist, geographer, and forester.

Besides the above, you could apply for accountant; administrative office work; budget analyst; computer specialist; facilities manager; management and program analyst; human resource specialist; and even writer/editor (several of which I expressed interest in to the representative)!

My only issue with some of the “choices” that day is that many required higher degrees in various science and math fields.  While I, personally, am not opposed to this, it limited the choices for some other people we serve at GCSS, who haven’t had higher education or the chance to learn necessary computer skills and such.

On the positive side, however, the Career Expo wasn’t exclusively geared toward people with developmental disabilities; there were a number of attendees who had physical disabilities, or in some cases, no discernible disability.  The variety of options was indeed inspiring.

Economize

Although in this economy, virtually everyone (even those with Master’s degrees and Ph.D’s) is struggling to find and/or retain jobs, it’s especially difficult for those with various types of disabilities.

While not every individual who walked into the job fair that day necessarily walked away with a definite chance for employment, I believe that the information received, and the conversations held, were of value.

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About gcsscommunity

My name is Eric Pudalov, and I work as Community Events Coordinator with Georgia Community Support and Solutions, whose mission is to provide creative, life-enriching solutions to people with developmental disabilities and their families. I became interested in this field, however, due to having a disability myself; namely, I had brain surgery in 1996 at age 14, to remove a benign tumor. Following this, I had many difficulties with short-term memory, loss of strength, confusion, and emotional control. Fortunately, at present, I've recovered much of what I'd lost. Despite some setbacks, I graduated high school with honors, and received an academic scholarship to Adelphi Univ., where I earned a BA in Communications. Since then, I've held a number of different jobs and internships, among them a TA position at Sylvan Learning Center, and work as a "Service Leader" with Hands on Atlanta. Since living in GA, I've also been involved with two programs (including GCSS) that serve people with disabilities. My experience has included sharing apartments with adults with autism and other disorders. Though my so-called "limitations" may differ from those of others in the program, these experiences have helped me to realize that people, overall, are capable of much more than we may at first perceive. Search Engine Submission - AddMe
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