Friday, July 24, 2009

LP teen just another worker at a Texas mall

From the Victoria Advocate in Texas:

Brittany Rios (pictured) reaches for, wraps and ties on her black Pretzelmaker apron with dignity.

It has never been easy for the 17-year-old, who has fought to find a job for two years and is only the height of an average 7-year-old.

Rios, 4-foot, 1-inch and born bow-legged, got hired at Pretzelmaker three weeks ago when the business first opened next to and in conjunction with Great American Cookie in the Victoria Mall.

Rios was one of the first employees on board.

Store manager Chuck Hicks isn't the type of person to discriminate because of a disability, Rios said.

For two years, the junior at Memorial High School-Senior campus had applied at local businesses, including clothing stores, fast-food restaurants and grocery stores.

Though Rios was never hired, she was never denied employment because of her dwarfism.

However, her short-stature is something she said she feels employers may have a hard time overlooking.

"I could do the same thing y'all do," said Rios, as she took a break from manning the counter. "It's just I do it a different way and work a different way."

That outlook is the reason Hicks said he hired her.

"I don't see people who are 5-feet 11-inches that work as hard as she does," he said.

Rios' attitude and work ethic make her a great candidate to become a shift leader fairly soon, he said.

Rios is being cross-trained at Pretzelmaker and Great American Cookie.

While customer service times usually average about 60 seconds, Rios has been above par at less than 35 seconds, Hicks said.

Hicks is also in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and has provided Rios with special accommodations.

Whether Rios is making and dipping pretzels or working the front counter, a step-stool is always inches away to help her perform her job efficiently.

A faucet-hose in the storage room is always kept on at a low-pressure because the faucet knob is too high up, even for Rios' step-stool.

"I feel sorry for anyone who would disregard her for her disability," Hicks said.

Becoming a nurse is high on Rios' list, but worries of her height and finding employment still concern her.

"I want to stay here as long as I can because I know if I go look somewhere else, I probably won't get hired," she said.

People with dwarfism are protected by the disabilities act, Gary Arnold, vice president of public relations for Little People of America, said.

"If a person was fired because of dwarfism or not hired because of dwarfism, that would be grounds for legal action," he said.

Arnold, who also lives with dwarfism, said the dwarfism community needs to raise awareness that dwarfism is a disability.

"Dwarfism is not always identified as a disability, either by employers or by people with dwarfism," he said. "Because of this, it's understandable that not everyone is aware of their protections under the law."

Rios' will continue holding onto the job she looked so hard for, she said.

"I thank my manager Chuck for hiring me," she said. "Where else would I find a job, I don't know."