Every year, we commemorate October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), in which we celebrate the contributions of America’s workers with disabilities past and present and highlight inclusive employment policies and practices.
The theme for this year is “Disability: Part of the Equity Equation.” Equity in the workplace means giving everyone a chance to contribute. JCFS Chicago collaborates with outside employers to help them create inclusive and welcoming workplaces for individuals with disabilities. Through encouragement and job skill education, we help individuals with disabilities contribute their full potential to the workplace.
Guadalupe Ivancevic is an Employment Specialist with JCFS’ Duman Opportunity Center, where she helps individuals with disabilities reach their employment goals by assessing their skills and challenges, then matches them with a job.
For example, severe social anxiety is a common disability among the people Guadalupe works with. Therefore, Guadalupe looks for jobs that are not public-facing and focuses on one-on-one interview skills, which her clients see as the most intimidating part of the hiring process. She also talks to prospective employers about the support the Duman Opportunity Center provides to businesses who embrace disability inclusion in their hiring practices. Including people with disabilities in the work force can help improve morale and workplace culture, increase employee retention and productivity, leading to a stronger bottom line.
“We educate and guide employers about how to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities,” says Guadalupe.
Guadalupe and other Duman employment specialists utilize immersion therapy to combat severe anxiety in their clients. By going on “field trips” to places of employment, individuals can observe workplaces in action, get a feel for what roles could suit them, and even make inroads with employers.
Recently, Luis Martinez, a Duman Youth Employment Specialist took Jessica* to a local mall to prepare for her first job search. Jessica suffers from social anxiety, but still applied to multiple stores in person, even speaking with a few managers.
“The trip helped Jessica face her anxiety and become more comfortable in a working environment,” said Luis. “She ended up getting an interview and went through the entire process on her own, without my help.”
Of course, some clients have a little more trouble facing the anxiety of a one-on-one job interview. This is where working with employers becomes so important.
“We had a company that was willing to collaborate with us to create a new type of interview to accommodate Susan*,” said Guadalupe. “It was for a baking assistant job, so instead of the typical Q + A interview format, Susan showed off her skills completing the different job duties for the employer. This type of practical interview was a lot easier for her.”
The Duman Opportunity Center staff uses techniques like these, along with other high-quality customized services like job readiness training, placement assistance, retention strategies and job coaching to help people with disabilities find and maintain meaningful employment.
*Names changed for anonymity