National Disability Employment Awareness Month: Employment Resources that Work—Revisited and Updated
As National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) kicks off this October, I want to revisit the employment resources we presented last year. Over the past 12 months, we've seen some exciting changes and amazing additions to the employment opportunities available for people with disabilities. This is not to say that the employment process has become easy, or that the high percentage of unemployment among people with disabilities is close to being resolved. The problem of people with disabilities being unable to find employment at a level equal to their education persists. If you visit the American Foundation for the Blind's statistics page, you will see that we still have a long way to go before reaching employment parity. That said, it's important to recognize how far we've come, explore where we are currently, and articulate where we need to be when it comes to employment for people with disabilities.
The History of National Disability Employment Awareness Month
In 1945, Congress designated the first week of October as National Employ the Physically Handicapped week in an effort to educate the public about hiring people with disabilities. In 1962, the word "physically" was dropped from the title in order to make the designation inclusive of all disabilities. In 1988, Congress made the decision to designate the entire month of October National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
Technology and the Employment Process: Benefits and Challenges
The employment process comprises training for employment; researching employment; applying for a position; interviewing, accepting, and starting a job; and maintaining employment. Over the last 15 years, much of the initial phase of the employment process in the US has moved online, meaning job seekers must have access to a computer and the Internet in order to find, research, and act upon the largest number of employment opportunities. Libraries can be an option for those who do not have a computer with Internet at home, though not all libraries have screen access software available. In addition, due to budget and staff limitations many libraries have trouble maintaining the technology they do have.
The move toward online applications has some benefits, such as the ability to quickly apply for a job in any location in the nation or world. A job seeker can apply to a job listing directly from their smartphone via the Web or an app, which can be convenient and fast. A negative aspect of searching for employment online is the proliferation of scams that offer work in exchange for a small investment or an "easy, work-from-home opportunity."
The ability to network online and connect with people who may be working in your field is a major benefit of technology's role in the employment process. Along with this benefit comes the challenge of ensuring that the people you meet online are honestly representing themselves and their motives.
Another positive aspect of today's job search is that there are many easily accessible sources for job listings. Online newspaper classified ads, corporate and business websites, job search websites, job announcement boards, and online list services all allow for more and faster access to opportunities. With these opportunities comes the increase in effort required to search through jobs that may not relate to your interests.
Technology has also changed the work environment in a profound way. Working from home has become a more accepted practice now that the office is only a call, chat, e-mail, or text away.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Everyone is afforded equal opportunity and access to the employment process under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Civil Rights Act, Rehabilitation Act, Age Discrimination Act, and Genetic Information Discrimination Act. Employers are not supposed to ask prospective employees about their disabilities, but people with disabilities have to be prepared to bring up the topic creatively in order to answer unasked questions related to their ability to perform job requirements. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provides oversight over the laws relating to employment and preventing discrimination during the employment process.
The CareerConnect website is a fully accessible AFB subsite dedicated to promoting the employment of people with vision loss. CareerConnect boasts a number of helpful resources, such as an online mentor database of gainfully employed or retired people who are visually impaired or blind. These mentors can be contacted for career and employment advice through a safe online messaging system. CareerConnect also offers employment-related articles, useful links for job seekers, and career exploration and résumé development tools. In addition, CareerConnect offers useful tools and activities for professionals working with clients who are blind or visually impaired.
Recently launched on AFB CareerConnect, Career Clusters provides an easier way to navigate government data on popular fields and also facilitates connecting with mentors through field-targeted message boards.
Currently, Career Clusters covers law, education, counseling, and healthcare—more fields are set to launch in the near future.
The Job Seeker's Toolkit
Career Connect's Job Seeker's Toolkit launched in the fall of last year. The Job Seeker's Toolkit is a free, self-paced, online course aimed at people who are new to the employment process. The Toolkit consists of a series of lessons and assignments that cover self-awareness, career exploration and job seeking tools, pre-interview and interview skills, and job maintenance. As you work your way through the Toolkit, you can save your assignments—ranging from your network contacts, to your résumé and cover letter, to a list of job leads—to your My CareerConnect portfolio where they can be accessed for future reference or use.
National Industries for the Blind
This year, the National Industries for the Blind (NIB) brought a new spin to their employment training programs by adding management tracks. The NIB now offers a contract management training program in connection with a federal government university program. The NIB's member organizations hold a number of federal contracts, and the program provides the opportunity to train people to manage those contracts. Contract management is a marketable skill that can be taken to other organizations, governmental agencies, and the public sector.
In 2011, NIB's Networking Group will celebrate their first year of providing great off- and online networking opportunities in the Washington DC area. NIB would love to start Networking Groups in other metropolitan areas.
The NIB CareersWithVision site is the result of a collaborative effort between AFB CareerConnect and the NIB. The NIB has compiled a large list of jobs from around the United States for positions within organizations that do work in fields related to blindness or that have hired people with visual impairments. A unique feature of the site is that you can submit your CareerConnect résumé with one click to participating organizations to apply for jobs. Create your CareerConnect user profile to get started. This service is provided at no cost to you. Search the CareersWithVision job board to see what's available.
Hadley School for the Blind
The Hadley School for the Blind offers online and correspondence courses for people with vision loss in subjects related to blindness skills, business writing, employment, and more. This past year, Hadley launched an exciting program called the Forsythe Center for Entrepreneurship, which offers in-depth information and training for entrepreneurs who are blind or visually impaired and who want to start their own businesses.
Accessing Federal Jobs
Federal agencies have two job application methods available for people with disabilities: competitive and non-competitive placements. Job applicants must meet the specified qualifications and be able to perform the essential job duties with reasonable accommodations.
Jobs that are filled competitively are advertised on USAJOBS, the official job-posting site used by the United States government. There are approximately 16,000 jobs available on the site each day. Once you register on the site, you can set up notifications for job advertisements related to selected keywords. President Obama wants to increase the percentage of people with disabilities working with the federal government—this should mean more opportunities for people with disabilities, now and in the future.
Jobs filled non-competitively are available to those with mental, severe physical, or psychiatric disabilities who have appropriate documentation as specified by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.
The U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) website offers useful connections to resources for self-employment, youth employment, employer advisement, the latest disability policies, and more. This office advises the U.S. Department of Labor and other government agencies on employment issues regarding people with disabilities.
GettingHired, LLC offers training courses, opportunities to connect with employers, career personality assessments, and other employment resources for people with disabilities. GettingHired has recently announced a partnership with HirePotential, Inc. HirePotential, Inc., will provide specialized training courses for national employers on the accommodation process, disability etiquette training, Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs compliance, tax credit utilization, and disability awareness training for recruiters and hiring managers.
Job Accommodation Network
The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is an online resource for accommodation advice for all disabilities. The website also allows users to submit questions regarding special accommodations and ADA issues in the workplace. JAN hosts webcasts on the provision of job accommodations; the programs can be accessed through their website.
Career One Stop
Career One Stop is a free resource provided by the U.S. Department of Labor that allows you to search your state's job bank database.
Career centers help people perform research to support professional goals. Colleges, universities, and post-secondary and vocational schools often have career centers, and many are available to the public. You may have to visit, call, or do some online research to find out what is available to you locally. Keep in mind that many career centers maintain robust websites accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. These sites may offer many free resources and materials. Career centers are often underutilized and most are eager to have visitors. Some receive grant money to offer services to the community or state, and some actively recruit people with disabilities to their centers.
Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies
Vocational rehabilitation helps people with disabilities prepare for entry or re-entry into the workforce. Your local vocational rehabilitation agency will offer a range of programs, resources, and services to help you prepare for and find work. The range of programs offered by these agencies varies from state to state, so research your local vocational rehabilitation agency, determine what programs and services you are eligible for, and get registered.
In most cases, these organizations exist to help you become job-ready and find employment. Some may also train you in independent daily living, orientation and mobility, and access technology. These organizations will also know about other available resources in your community and state. To find a local or state agency near you, use AFB's Directory of Services.
During National Disability Employment Awareness Month and beyond, take the time to spread the message that individuals with disabilities can be great employees. If you're in a position to do so, open some employment doors for a qualified person with a disability. It's important not to forget the word "qualified," because we are advocating for employment equality. Contact your local state agency for people with disabilities to find out if there are any awareness activities planned this month. Your local state vocational rehabilitation agency, blind services, or community rehabilitation provider would be a good place to start.
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