National Disability Employment Awareness Month: The Employment Process
As National Disability Employment Awareness Month (October) kicks off, it is important to take a moment to explore employment opportunities available today. Employment for people with disabilities, including those with vision loss, has come a long way, and there are more opportunities available than ever before. This is not to say that the employment process is easy, or that the high percentage of unemployment among people with disabilities is close to being resolved. It is, however, important to realize where we began, where we are, and where we need to be. Truthfully, the problem of persons with disabilities being employed at a level equal to their education is far from solved. This article takes a closer look at how the employment process has changed and highlights some of the resources available to us as we search for fulfilling employment.
The History of National Disability Employment Awareness Month
In 1945, Congress designated the first week of October as National Employ the Physically Handicapped week, which was an effort to educate the public about hiring people with disabilities. In 1962, the word "physically" was dropped from the title to include people with all disabilities. In 1988, Congress made the decision to expand the week to a month and renamed it "National Disability Employment Awareness Month." This meant the entire month of October was dedicated to expanding awareness and employment opportunities for all people with disabilities.
Raising the public's awareness of employment needs for people with disabilities is important because many people with disabilities are unemployed or underemployed, meaning they are working below their education level. Most people with disabilities want to work, but many have difficulties breaking into the world of employment. It is important to promote the hiring of people with disabilities as they represent a viable yet underutilized pool of qualified job candidates. 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.
The Employment Process
The employment process comprises the steps or phases in training for employment, researching employment, applying for a position, interviewing, accepting and starting a job, and maintaining that employment. Over the last 15 years, much of the initial phase of the employment process has moved online, meaning people must have access to a computer and the Internet. If you do not have access to a computer or the Internet at home, libraries are an option, but not all libraries have screen-access software available to people with vision loss. Check beforehand as some libraries may have the appropriate technology, but it may not be properly maintained.
The move toward online applications has some benefits, such as the ability to apply in an instant for a job on the other side of the world. Working from home rather than in the office is more common because of the use of virtual networks. The office is now only a conference call, phone call, text, chat, or post away. Indeed, the ability to network online and connect with people who may be working in your field is a major benefit of online job hunts. You can build up your personal and professional networks by utilizing social networking sites and other online resources. This positive comes with a few negatives. People can misrepresent themselves online very easily, but you can do some fact checking for reassurance.
Another positive aspect of today's job search is that there are many sources to search for jobs. This includes online newspaper classified ads, corporate and business websites, job search websites, job announcement boards, and online list services. All of these methods allow for more access to opportunities, but with these opportunities come more effort to search through jobs that may not relate to your interests. Searching for employment is a full-time job with a lot of overtime.
One 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." These scams were around prior to the Internet and were advertised in college newspapers and other periodicals. The best advice is to be wary of anything that sounds too good to be true. Research the employer or organization offering the opportunity. You can often do an online search with the name of the organization and the word "scam." You will most likely find posts from others who have had an experience with the organization.
Organizations tend to do background searches online when an individual is applying for a position. They may look at your social networking pages, such as Facebook, to view your personal information. It is important to understand that your posts on these sites may not be totally secure. There are often work-arounds that allow people to look at your page, where they will be able to see pictures and messages you and your friends have posted. Be careful with what you post and what you allow others to post on your page. Employees have been fired for things they posted on their social networking pages. If an employer feels the information posted is inappropriate, he or she may have grounds to fire you. When applying for employment, it is important to make sure the information on your social networking pages presents a competent, professional image.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Employers are not supposed to ask perspective employees about their disabilities, but people with disabilities have to be prepared to bring up the topic creatively to answer the 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. 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.
The CareerConnect website is a fully accessible, online program of the American Foundation for the Blind dedicated to promoting the employment of people with vision loss. CareerConnect boasts a number of helpful resources, such as an online mentor database of people from many fields of work who are visually impaired or blind and gainfully employed or retired. These mentors can be contacted for advice through a safe online messaging system. The site also offers employment-related articles, useful links for job seekers, and career-exploration and résumé-development tools. CareerConnect also offers useful tools and activities for professionals.
Launching in the near future is a section called "Career Clusters," which will make it much easier to find career information. This section will allow one to find career data, mentors, and a career-specific message board all in one place. This will make navigating the career-exploration process that much easier. Check it out soon on the CareerConnect site.
The Job Seeker's Toolkit
The Job Seeker's Toolkit is the latest resource from CareerConnect. The Job Seeker's Toolkit is a self-paced, online course. You work your way through lessons and assignments that can be saved and updated over time. You will have the option to save these tools in your "My CareerConnect" portfolio. The tools range from your résumé and cover letter to a list of job leads. The toolkit starts with an introduction to the course and CareerConnect, and then proceeds through modules on self awareness, general tools for career exploration and searching for jobs, and pre-interview and interview skills. The course ends with information on job maintenance and resources to guide you through keeping that all-important job. This toolkit is available free of charge to all registered CareerConnect users.
National Industries for the Blind
The National Industries for the Blind (NIB) brings a new spin to their employment training programs by adding management tracks. The NIB offers a contract management training program in connection with a federal government university program. The federal government has a large number of contracts and needs people to manage and monitor them. The NIB's member organizations have a number of federal contracts, allowing them the opportunity to train people to manage these contracts. Contract management is a marketable skill that can be taken to other organizations, governmental agencies, and the public sector.
The NIB CareerNet site (CareerNet is used under license from CareerNet, LLC) is the result of a collaborative effort between AFB CareerConnect and NIB. The NIB has compiled a large list of jobs from around the United States for positions within organizations and businesses associated with industries for the blind. These businesses work in fields related to blindness or have hired persons with visual impairments. The unique feature to this portal is that when you build your résumé on CareerConnect and store it, you are then able to submit your résumé with one click to participating organizations to apply for jobs. If you are interested, create your user profile on CareerConnect and get started. This service is provided at no cost to you. Search the CareerNet job board to see what is available.
Hadley School for the Blind
The Hadley School for the Blind offers online and correspondence courses for people with vision loss. Hadley offers courses related to blindness skills, business writing, employment, and has offered a program on executive training.
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 or without reasonable accommodations.
Jobs that are filled competitively are advertised on USAJOBS. USAJOBS is the official job-posting site used by the U.S. federal government. There are approximately 16,000 jobs available on the site each day. Registering on the website allows one to apply to the federal jobs. This takes some time, but is worth the effort. The website allows you to select notifications of job advertisements related to key words. USAJOBS is a tremendous resource that all people with disabilities seeking competitive employment should explore. President Obama wants to increase the percentage of people with disabilities working with the federal government. This should mean many current and future opportunities for people with disabilities.
Jobs filled non-competitively are offered to those who with mental, severe physical, or psychiatric disabilities and who have appropriate documentation as specified under the provisions. For more details on these processes, please visit 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. Kathleen Martinez is the assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy. Martinez is an internationally known expert on disability employment issues and advocacy. She was appointed by President Obama in 2009, but she is no stranger to advising the U.S. government on disability policy.
Recently, Martinez took some time to speak to AccessWorld about the functions of her office and the resources people with disabilities should know about. Martinez told us that ODEP is gearing up for National Disability Employment Awareness Month with their new poster featuring the theme, "Talent Has No Boundaries: Workforce Diversity INCLUDES Workers with Disabilities." These posters can be ordered online at http://www.pueblo.gsa.gov/rc/odep.htm. Martinez believes ODEP-sponsored programs are plentiful, but it is important to support efforts already in motion. Such efforts include Disability Mentoring Day and the Disability.gov website. The ODEP website offers many resources, including a mentoring handbook and helpful links to other organizations
When Martinez was asked about the most important point for employers to know about hiring people with disabilities compared with those without disabilities, she responded, "The most important point for them to know is that there are more similarities than differences." Organizations that hire qualified people who have disabilities "should be the rule, not the exception," Martinez said. She spoke about creating a diverse workplace filled with persons of unique talents, adding that diversity will allow businesses to thrive and grow in a global marketplace where consumers are just as diverse.
Martinez noted that many programs for people with disabilities who are seeking employment are underutilized. She went on to say there are numerous programs available, among them the Workforce Recruitment Program for College Students with Disabilities (WRP). The WRP is a program that looks for outstanding and enthusiastic college students with disabilities or recent graduates who would like to get real work experience through summer internships or regular full-time positions. The WRP is sponsored by the Department of Labor and the Department of Defense with 20 other participating federal agencies. This program not only leads to work experience, but often to full-time employment.
Martinez explained the largest stride for persons with disabilities she has seen since taking office was the Executive Order issued by President Obama on July 26, 2010. President Obama said the federal government would serve as a model for ensuring all people have the same opportunity to be employed. His goal is to have the federal government set the bar for hiring people with disabilities. Since that speech, the Office of Personnel Management has begun working with agencies to meet the president's goal of a truly diverse workforce. The president wants to see actual, trackable outcomes, Martinez said.
Kathleen Martinez is an asset to all people with disabilities, and as a woman who is blind, she is a great representative for the vision-loss community. She is devoted to making a difference for people with disabilities by working for equal access to employment.
GettingHired is an online employment resource for people with disabilities. It offers training courses, opportunities to connect with employers, career personality assessments, and other resources. The site is connected with employers who pay a subscription fee to have access to users. This allows a job seeker another opportunity to advertise him- or herself. The more people who sell their skills and abilities, the better. 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, OFCCP compliance, tax credit utilization, and disability awareness training for recruiters and hiring managers.
Job Accommodation Network
The Job Accommodation Network is an online resource that offers accommodation advice. The website also allows users to submit questions regarding special accommodations and ADA issues in the workplace. This well-established resource may prove useful as it covers issues dealing with all disabilities, including vision loss.
Career One Stop
Career One Stop is a free resource provided by the U.S. Department of Labor. The job bank allows you to connect to and 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, 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.
Libraries are an important resource for any job seeker. At your local library, you can find books in large-print, audio, or other formats, access major online research databases, and find additional information and guidance. Most libraries are moving--or have moved--some or all of their materials onto the Internet. If you do not have a membership at your local library, schedule an appointment to join and receive a tour. If most of your library's resources and research tools are online, you might even be able to do the majority of your orientation over the Internet.
If you are a student at a high school, vocational school, community college, or university, your institution's library may provide access to even more online resources. Even if you are not a student, many community and public colleges offer local residents access to their resources. Even schools that do not offer access may be persuaded to do so with some negotiating, persistence, and a positive attitude.
Library staff are trained to help you find the information and resources that will support your employment research. Some universities and public libraries have staff trained to work specifically with people with disabilities. Find out what is available at your local library and take advantage of whatever resources you find.
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.
In closing, if you are a person with a disability, a professional who works with persons with disabilities, or someone who knows a person with a disability, please take the time to spread the message that individuals with disabilities can be great employees.
Get on the bandwagon and help educate the public. At the same time, open some employment doors for a qualified person with a disability. It is important not to forget the word "qualified" because we are advocating for equality. Contact your local state agency for persons with disabilities and find out if there are activities to promote awareness. Your local state vocational rehabilitation agency, blind services, or community rehabilitation provider would be a good place to start.
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