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.

 

Veteran’s Salute – Kathryn Strawder

“After graduating high school, I had little experience but lots of ambition.” Kathryn (Kathy) Strawder enlisted in the U.S. Army in June 1995 to start a meaningful career with potential. “I enrolled as a Private, the lowest rank possible. The transition was rough; I felt like I made a huge mistake. However, the rigorous training was necessary to build us up.”

After Basic and Advanced Individual Training AIT training, Kathy joined the 17th Signal Battalion in Kitzingen, Germany. Throughout her career, she was stationed in Germany, Fort Hood, Korea, and Fort Bliss, including a deployment to Bosnia for a peacekeeping mission.

“In Bosnia, we dressed in full battle rattle (combat uniform). It was tough for my team, but we were always supportive and helped each other to get through the mission. I gratefully landed back in Germany after the deployment was over.”

With determination and drive, Kathy soon rose above the challenges. “When I was a young Specialist, I attended school to become a Non-Commissioned Officer. I received three awards, including the Commandant’s List (Honors Award), Iron Soldier, and Class A. After graduation, some female officers told me how proud they were of me for representing women in the force. I then went back to my unit and won Soldier of the Month.”

Kathy was promoted to Sergeant and enrolled in the Green to Gold Educational Program to attend St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, eventually rising to the rank of Captain. “I never forget that every contribution, no matter how small, contributed to the success of our team. The Army taught me important leadership skills including mentoring, resiliency, patience, and focus.”

“To this day, I’m proud to have served for over a decade in active duty and the Army Reserves. I wouldn’t trade it for anything!”

Kathy left the Army in 2009 to concentrate on her family. “The first six months after leaving were the most challenging – I felt like I had lost my identity. There were so many new things I had to get used to, including signing up for benefits and even picking out work clothes.”

“I still miss the Army, but I love the life that I have now. My advice to other veterans adjusting to civilian life is to have a plan, be open to new ideas and experiences and most importantly don’t give up.”

Kathy worked as a civilian within the military field until she was hired in 2014 at PRIDE Industries’ Fort Bliss  contract as Human Resources Director – helping manage employee relations for a small city of facilities experts that keep the base operational.

“It’s just a great opportunity to be part of this wonderful company,” says Kathy. “I can’t say enough how much I love my job. My son has Autism, and I can only imagine what the parents who started this company had in mind when they envisioned something better for their children. Just like the Army, I believe in PRIDE’s mission!”

Veteran’s Salute – David Daniel

“My dad served in the military for 30 years. He inspired me to join as well.” David Daniel served in the United States Air Force from 1984 to 2012, enlisting shortly after graduating high school.

“My transition to military life was slightly humorous. At basic training, you follow a strict regimen: when to get up, go to sleep, make your bed, fold your clothes and hang your uniforms,” said David. “Coming from a military family, I thought this was normal. I guess this helped me make squad leader!”

After his first overseas assignment to Guam, David was sent to Patrick AFB in Florida in 1990. Shortly afterward, he was sent to Kuwait for the Gulf War. “It was a surreal experience,” said David. “I packed up and said goodbye to my friends and family, and still couldn’t believe I was leaving.”

David served multiple tours throughout his time in the Air Force, including Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. “You realize that you are much more capable than you thought. I understood this especially during my deployment to Kandahar, Afghanistan; when my team was attacked.”

Through his dedication and exemplary work, David moved from Airman Basic (E-1) in 1984 to Chief Master Sergeant (E-9) in 2012. The Air Force led him all over the world including the Middle East, South America, East Asia and Europe.

Throughout his career, David has completed many roles in civil engineering, helping keep various bases safely running through times of conflict and peace. His bravery also earned him several awards and decorations, including the Bronze Star.

“I went to 19 countries – and loved them all,” said David. “However, my most memorable moment was a 2010 humanitarian deployment to Suriname. I was asked to lead a RED HORSE team (Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers) to build medical clinics and schools. It was an incredible experience to create a positive impact.”

At the end of his career, David served as the Superintendent for the 87th Mission Support Group, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey – acting as the principal advisor to the Commander on all enlistment issues for 3,911 personnel.

Although he had enjoyed serving in the military, David looked forward to a new beginning. “I officially retired on November 1st, 2012, serving a total 28 years, ten months and 14 days,” said David.

“I enjoyed my career, but it was the right time to end. Thankfully, PRIDE Industries offered me a position as the Operations Manager at the Ft. Bliss contract.”

Working in a familiar environment helped make his military transition easier. “My transition went rather smoothly,” explained David. “I moved from Joint Base Maguire-Dix-Lakehurst (JB-MDL), NJ to Ft. Bliss, TX and took off the uniform. I was also fortunate to have my Dad’s advice to know what to expect.”

In 2015, David joined PRIDE’s Western Currency Facility contract as the General Manager. He currently manages a team of 50 people, including those with disabilities and veterans. “I love that PRIDE gives people opportunities and confidence through employment.”

“Working for PRIDE has positively impacted my life, and I enjoy the ability to build teams who accomplish more than they ever imagined.”

Building a Rewarding Life

Bipolar disorder affects approximately 5.7 million adult Americans, or about 2.6% of the U.S. population age 18 and older every year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Cecilia “Cecy” Marquez, is a PRIDE Industries employee at our Fort Bliss contract site in Texas. Cecy was diagnosed with bipolar disorder as an adult. The late diagnosis and an unsupportive support system contributed to an unstable employment track record, low self-esteem and an overpowering feeling of unproductiveness. In 2010, Cecy’s disability was exacerbated due to a tragic car accident that resulted in a PTSD diagnosis.

Lack of accommodations at work and immense anxiety hindered Cecy’s employment tenures. Before joining PRIDE, she hid her disability, not disclosing it to employers or co-workers. When daily stressors would become too much to cope with, she would resign.

It is natural for a mood to change or anxiety level to rise when a stressful or difficult event occurs. However, individuals with bipolar disorder may experience mood swings that are so severe and overwhelming that they interfere with personal relationships, job responsibilities and daily functioning. Bipolar disorder is a lifelong illness. Fortunately, effective treatment plans are available which usually combine medication and therapy.

In January 2016, Cecy was hired as a Service Order Dispatcher with PRIDE. “My management team and counselor provide helpful resources that I find enlighten my workday,” says Cecy.

Cecy is an asset to her team and department, as she continues to overcome roadblocks while providing great customer service. “Cecy enjoys taking calls and receives them with a smile,” Corina E Huerta-Coronado, Cecy’s Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor at PRIDE, says. “She believes that smiles carry through the phone lines and provides great service to the soldiers, techs and other personnel.”

Life is much different now for Cecy; she is gainfully employed, has a wonderful support system both at home and at work, and feels proud to be contributing to the community and soldiers at Fort Bliss.

“I love my job and that includes being a part of the Fort Bliss community,” says Cecy. “When I enter onto the base, I feel a sense of pride.”

Having a job is about more than a paycheck; it improves confidence, self-esteem, creates greater self-sufficiency and aids in building a rewarding life. For Cecy, her job has contributed to a once in a lifetime experience. “Because I am employed, I had the privilege of traveling on a pilgrimage to Rome and the Holy Land – Israel, last fall,” Cecy shares.

For individuals like Cecy, a job means much more than income. She is contributing to the community while continuing to grow and live her life. We are proud to have Cecy on our team and are grateful she found a place with PRIDE Industries.

Inclusion Drives Innovation – NDEAM

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). The theme of this year’s month-long celebration is “Inclusion Drives Innovation.”

“Inclusion Drives Innovation,” is at the heart of PRIDE Industries’ mission – to create jobs for people with disabilities. In 1966, a group of parents met in the basement of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Auburn, California, determined to create employment opportunities for their adult children with disabilities.

For more than 50 years, PRIDE has had to be innovative to drive inclusion and grow our mission. With more than 5,600 people, including more than 3,300 people with disabilities and operating in 14 states and the nation’s capital. At PRIDE, we know that disability does not mean inability and that through employment, individuals with disabilities gain a sense of purpose, dignity, inclusion, and lead more self-sufficient lives.

pride industries employee at fort bliss going up ladder, HVAC tech

“For the first time, I did not have to hide my disability.” Meet Michael, click here.

 


“It really means a lot to have a job because I am on a regular schedule and making money with consistent hours.” Meet Sam, click here.

 

“My work gives meaning to my life.” Meet Richard, click here.

Through PRIDE’s innovative roots and by harnessing the ‘power of purpose’, people with disabilities gain opportunities to become contributing members of the community.

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.

Independence Day

Today on Independence Day, we celebrate the independence, freedom, and liberties that were hard-won 241 years ago.

Currently, there is much discussion about what constitutes independence and inclusion of people with disabilities in the workplace. PRIDE Industries’ programs and services promote independence and self-reliance for all individuals with disabilities, including developmental, intellectual, physical, sensory, mental illness and more. Since 1966, our mission, to create jobs for people with disabilities, has expanded opportunities for those most often excluded from employment.

Through our more than 50-year history, PRIDE Industries has proven that employment is essential to an individual’s sense of purpose, dignity, and inclusion. For many individuals, independence and inclusion are achieved through employment, choice and increased self-sufficiency.

From all of us at PRIDE Industries, happy Independence Day.

 

The Journey is Only the Beginning

“Without PRIDE, I would be at home playing video games.”

Getting your first job as a young adult is usually a challenge, especially with a lack of experience and a college degree. This essential task becomes even more daunting when you have a disability. Brandon Alexander is a young adult with both Autism Spectrum Disorder and A.D.H.D. After graduating high school, he encountered many obstacles while searching for his first job. Brandon had sought help but still did not find employment after several years. Fortunately, this changed when he was referred to PRIDE Industries’ Employment Services in July 2016.

“Brandon had been heavily discouraged, but I knew that we could help him,” says PRIDE Job Developer Twila Overton. “His disabilities presented challenges for interviewing for a job position, such as sitting still, and giving direct eye contact and clear communication.” Twila worked with Brandon to help him develop employment soft skills and practice interviewing.

Practice soon made perfect, and in October both of their efforts paid off; Brandon was hired at PRIDE Industries’ contract at Beale AFB, CA as a cafeteria attendant. “This has been a wonderful opportunity,” says Brandon “I’m so happy to have a job. PRIDE has given me a chance to participate in the community and to earn a paycheck.”

As a cafeteria worker, Brandon helps contribute to the well-being of the soldiers at Beale AFB. “It feels good to have a daily routine and to work in a team,” says Brandon. Besides his coworkers, Brandon is supported by his job coach and Twila, who are available to help with any questions or challenges on his job. This support ended up being just what Brandon needed, and he was promoted to full-time after his first three months. “Brandon is wonderful with customers and has made great progress in his position,” says Food Service Manager Evergene Avent.

A job is accompanied by many more milestones to an independent life. With the funds earned from his job, Brandon opened up his first savings account. He eventually aims to find a residence of his own with the money he’s saved. “Having this position has also improved my confidence and ability to advocate for myself,” says Brandon.

Brandon wants to continue to work for PRIDE and become a lead cafeteria worker at Beale. We are proud to support him in his first job and his career aspirations.

Career After The Military

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Richard H. Reddy served 20 years (1970-1990) in the United States Air Force as a Technical Sergeant. His exemplary service earned him a commendation medal, the bronze star in Vietnam and the good conduct medal. After retiring from the military, Richard searched for a job that would provide for his family.

While looking for a position, a friend referred him to PRIDE Industries. A simple referral ended up leading to a long-lasting career – Richard has been employed with PRIDE for more than 20 years. He started in food service at Beale AFB in Marysville, CA, and later transferred to Travis AFB in Fairfield, CA as a custodian, where he works today.

Though no longer in active duty, Richard passionately supports our military members by helping to keep the base in pristine condition.

pride-industries-_-richard“Working on base gives me a sense that I’m still at home. That’s important to me,” says Richard. As a PRIDE employee, he receives job skills development and accommodations, along with the support of his fellow PRIDE colleagues.

“My job has given me stability and has helped towards my goal of buying a home,” says Richard. “PRIDE has become my comfort zone after the military. My work gives meaning to my life.”