Monday, February 23, 2009

People with disabilities actively seeking jobs in tight times

From the intro to a feature in the Idaho Statesman. In the picture, Jeremy Watson, 25, has cerebral palsy and works full time at the Wal-Mart in Southwest Boise, Idaho. Right now, Watson says he likes working in the shoe department. During the past four years he has performed a variety of jobs for the company, including working as a people-greeter and an assembler in the gardening department.

Even as future readers and their parents swarm around her, Sue Rodenbaugh smiles and continues to alphabetize books.

Rodenbaugh, 50, is a slight woman with a cap of grey hair. She works as a page at the Boise Public Library, which makes her a member of at least two minority groups: She has a developmental disability - and a job.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates only 20 percent of Americans with a disability have jobs, compared to 65 percent of people without a disability.

Disability is a sprawling term that doesn't differentiate between a blind doctoral candidate and a Special Olympian with Down syndrome.

Marilyn Sword, director of the Idaho Council on Developmental Disabilities, believes unemployment numbers for people with developmental disabilities are even higher, though many have skills well-suited for the workplace when the right matches are found.

Gordon Graff, disability program navigator lead at the Idaho Department of Labor, called people with disabilities "a great untapped source of skills."

"But in this economy, job openings for any person are dwindling to small numbers. A barrier, whether it is a disability, or language barrier, makes it that much harder for a person to get connected," he said.