Invisible Disabilities and the Workplace

Autumn dawn in forest

56 million people in the United States have a disability. Some disabilities are more visible than others, especially if the individual relies on a wheelchair or walking cane. But others, known as “invisible” disabilities, are not. People who live with invisible or hidden disabilities also face challenges in the workplace and in their communities, which can make daily living more difficult.

Defining invisible disability:

In simple terms, an invisible disability is a physical, mental or neurological condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities and that is invisible to the onlooker. Unfortunately, the very fact that these symptoms are invisible can lead to misunderstandings, false perceptions and judgment. For more information on invisible disabilities, visit: www. invisibledisabilities.org.

According to NPR.org, “It is hard to pinpoint the number of Americans with an invisible disability, but it’s estimated there are millions. Their conditions may range from lupus to bipolar disorder or diabetes. The severity of each person’s condition varies, and the fear of stigma means that people often prefer not to talk about their illnesses.”

Invisible disabilities in the workplace:

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that reasonable accommodation be provided by an employer, if necessary, for all people with disabilities, whether hidden or visible. Unfortunately, if a disability is not visible or obvious, often people have difficulty understanding the need for accommodation, and some employees think coworkers are receiving favoritism.

There are myths and negative stereotypes that continue to exclude individuals with disabilities from the workplace despite their willingness and ability to work. For more information on myths and perceptions of hiring people with disabilities, click here.

Disclosing a disability:

In most cases, individuals would choose to disclose a disability to request a reasonable accommodation. A reasonable accommodation allows an employee with a disability to do their job. It is the individual’s decision to disclose their disability if he or she can perform the essential job functions without accommodations. To learn more about hidden disabilities in the workplace, click here.

Adding value to the workplace:

Hiring people with – visible or invisible – disabilities is no different than hiring any other job candidate. All new hires need to become familiar with an organization’s management style and workplace culture. Working with agencies serving people with disabilities, including PRIDE Industries, brings the added benefit of comprehensive training and guidance to ensure success for employer, employee and new team members.

Recruiting qualified people with disabilities brings benefits far beyond filling a job opening, including low turnover, reduced training and recruitment costs, and a loyal and committed workforce. A 2007 DePaul University study noted low absenteeism rates and long tenures for workers with disabilities; participating employers described their employees as “loyal, reliable, and hardworking.”

PRIDE Industries published Ability Matters — a free resource guide created for businesses interested in learning more about employing people with disabilities. To download your free copy of Ability Matters, click here.

 

Access to Advance in The Workplace

 

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”  ~~ Nelson Mandela

Jose “Rogelio” Ibanez is an employee at PRIDE Industries’ Fort Bliss contract. In the multicultural city of El Paso, TX, he can communicate in four different languages: English, American Sign Language (ASL), Spanish and Lengua Senas Mexicanas (LSM – or Mexican Sign Language). Not only has this ability helped him build a strong career in the carpentry shop at PRIDE, but it has also opened a new door into the education field.

Rogelio has had a remarkable journey to PRIDE. He was born deaf in Durango, Mexico to hearing parents. This difference created a language barrier early in his life, and Rogelio struggled with communication until he attended a deaf educational morning program to learn LSM. He also gradually acquired Spanish by learning to lip-read on his own. This was no easy accomplishment, as LSM differs from Spanish on verb inflections, structure and word order.

When he was a teenager, Rogelio moved to Texas with his family for a better life in the United States. Although he found a better economic environment, moving to a new country presented many new cultural and lingual challenges.

Rogelio landed a job in the construction industry and learned to weld, but had difficulty communicating with colleagues who did not know LSM and he struggled with finding steady employment. After becoming acquainted with local members of the deaf community, Rogelio gradually learned both ASL and English.

Seeking employment that would provide a steadier and more supportive environment for his disability, Rogelio was referred to PRIDE Industries by the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) in 2011; he was then hired as a Grounds Maintenance Laborer (GML). In this position, he maintained Fort Bliss parks and streets – making them look their best for our nation’s soldiers. For his excellent work, he was promoted to a General Maintenance Worker (GMW) in 2015. As a GMW in the Between Occupancy Maintenance (BOM) department, Rogelio maintains soldier barracks between deployments.

“I am very fortunate to work for a company that hires and embraces people with disabilities like myself,” says Rogelio. “There needs to be more access and fewer barriers for people with disabilities to advance in the workplace.”

When communication help is needed, PRIDE’s job coaches at Fort Bliss are there to facilitate; they are also fluent in English, American Sign Language, Spanish and Mexican Sign Language. Rogelio’s smartphone is also configured with assistive technology (Purple Communications) that provides on-site translation. With a supportive network, Rogelio has thrived, and he has been recognized for his contributions to the base upkeep.

Aside from his attentiveness and dedication to his work, Rogelio is always willing to help translate and teach LSM to interpreters at Fort Bliss. Recently, an instructor from the El Paso Community College asked Rogelio to help teach an LSM workshop in April 2017. The class was a success; he had a full group of students ranging from advanced interpreters to Interpreter Training Program students. Rogelio now plans on becoming a Deaf Certified Interpreter (CDI) to improve his ability as a language mediator between LSM and ASL.

In addition to his teaching aspirations, Rogelio plans to earn his GED and attend a technical training school to become a certified welder and aspires to own a business in automotive body welding.

 

An Untapped Labor Pool – The Benefits of Diversity in The Workplace

In today’s highly competitive business environment, companies are working harder to maintain profit margins while creating high standards and developing new strategies for growth. A workforce rich in diversity and varied backgrounds is often better equipped to create viable and creative solutions to the business challenges of a global market.

Diversity refers to variances among ethnicity, gender, age, and religion, including individuals’ attributes and experiences. One out of five people in America has a disability, making them the nation’s largest “minority.” The group represents all ages, genders, ethnicities and socioeconomic levels. Integrating people with disabilities in your business and the workforce can create a competitive advantage.

Businesses that employ individuals with disabilities appreciate their diverse experiences and perspectives, adding value to the workplace. Recruiting qualified people with disabilities brings benefits far beyond filling a job opening, including low turnover, reduced training and recruitment costs, and a loyal and committed workforce. A 2007 DePaul University study noted low absenteeism rates and long tenures for workers with disabilities; participating employers described their employees as “loyal, reliable, and hardworking.” This untapped labor pool can offer a source of skilled employees while contributing to lower business expenses.

In most cases, hiring people with disabilities is no different than hiring any other job candidate.  All new hires need to become familiar with an organization’s management style and workplace culture. Working with agencies serving people with disabilities brings the added benefit of comprehensive training and guidance to ensure success for employer, employee and new team members.

Ability Matters is a free resource guide created by PRIDE Industries for businesses interested in learning more about employing people with disabilities. The booklet was compiled with input from business leaders to help companies gain the competitive edge by achieving diversity in the workplace.

Ability Matters was developed by PRIDE Industries in collaboration with the following organizations; The ARC of California, ALTA California Regional Center, Work Training Center, Inc., California Disability Services Association, Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce, and Unisource Worldwide, Inc. The guide addresses topics ranging from business advantages to recruitment and hiring, as well as support services, tax incentives, and realistic workplace accommodations.

To download your free copy of Ability Matters, click here.

What I Can Do

PRIDE Industries_MsAlice

By guest blogger, Nicole Richards, rehab/marketing intern at PRIDE Industries Headquarters.

“I like children’s natural curiosity and honesty. They look beyond the wheelchair at me, Ms. Alice, as a person that can give them a ride that day. They’re not looking at what I can’t do; they’re looking at what I can do,” said Alice.

Alice Kimble is celebrating her 17th year working at Lighthouse Child Development Center. Her journey has not been easy. However, she does not allow challenges to diminish her sense of purpose, her pride and most importantly, her contagious smile.

“To me, we all have a disability, the only difference is you can physically see mine” said Alice.

Her whole life she has enjoyed working with children. Lighthouse is a daycare facility and private kindergarten for children ages 6 weeks-6 years old. Throughout the last 17 years, Alice has spent time with each age group and realized that she especially enjoys working with the older children that can ask her questions. Her favorite activity is giving rides to children on her chair, but she also spends time consoling babies, feeding children, and monitoring playtime outside.

Lighthouse provides an environment in which children develop many life skills with the support of their teachers. While children play, they also learn and often turn to their trusted teacher with their curiosities.

Alice reminisced one instance in which a 4-year-old boy became curious about why Ms. Alice doesn’t walk. She explained to him, “my muscles aren’t strong enough to help me walk, but yours are”. He shouted gladly “Yeah, mine are!” Then, he offered to trade his legs with Ms. Alice so she could walk around like him.

Alice’s employer, Sandi Ford, recognizes that Alice adds value at Lighthouse with more than just her job skills. “The children have learned respect for individuals with wheelchairs and because of Alice they have been taught to help others who are not always able to help themselves,” said Sandi Ford.

PRIDE Industries_job coachPRIDE Industries has a long history of supporting Alice in her employment at Lighthouse. Gloria, Alice’s job coach, has visited her for years. On a weekly basis, they talk about and solve any challenges she might be facing at work.

“Gloria is my sounding board” explained Alice, “and if there was a really big problem and I didn’t feel comfortable going alone to my employer saying this is what I need or this is what I would like, then I know I could call Gloria up and she’d step in and help me talk to them.”

PRIDE job coaches provide individuals with confidence in the workplace. They are a trusted ear to listen to the struggles and the successes while offering access to resources. They give support and advice on how to deal with conflicts, how to approach a manager, or maybe how to adapt certain jobs to fit within the individual’s abilities.

“So to me they’re more than just job coaches, they become your friends too,” said Alice.

Alice beautifully exemplifies PRIDE’s vision for each individual. She desires to give back to the community and fulfill a need for purpose in her life. Alice said, “I’ve always known that people are always going to have to help me, regardless of how old I am. My biggest goal in life was to really just work because I wanted to give back to society like they gave to me.”

And Ms. Alice has proven herself to be a very valuable asset inspiring others in her community. She proudly related a story about a young girl who Alice cared for during her first few years at Lighthouse. This young girl told Ms. Alice that she wanted to grow up and be a doctor so she could help Ms. Alice and others like her. All these years later, this now young woman carries with her the precious memories of her childhood inspiration as she currently studies at San Francisco State to become a medical doctor.

PRIDE is honored to celebrate Ms. Alice’s success working in the community!