Raising awareness of disabled employees

Job mentoring, movies, open house at job center among month's events

Posted: Tuesday, October 14, 2003

People with disabilities in Juneau will head to their "dream jobs" Wednesday, thanks to a disability mentoring day organized by Southeast Alaska Independent Living.

"Many people with disabilities do work, but often it's janitorial-type work, sorting paper or something like that," said Sierra Kaden, director of Outdoor Recreation and Community Access, a branch of SAIL. "But they have dreams and goals the same as everybody else, and there's many jobs they're interested in."

About 15 people with disabilities ranging from paralysis and deafness to a developmental disability plan to work Wednesday at jobs that make the best use of the person's abilities. The mentoring day is part of a series of activities taking place this month, which has been designated National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

"We have one girl with a disability who wants to work with physical disabilities, so she'll be working with a student for the day at (Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School) who uses a wheelchair, then she'll go with the ORCA Adventure Club after school," Kaden said.

Other disabled people will be working at the Juneau Police Department, Duran Construction, Safeway, Rainbow Foods and the Silverbow Bakery.

Hiring people with disabilities can benefit both the employee and employer, said Margie Thomson, a project assistant with the Alaska Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. She organized an open house for people with disabilities at the Juneau Job Center from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday.

"It's just kind of a really good chance to showcase all the things we have here at the job center and resources we have for people to use," Thomson said. "It's also going to introduce people at the job center to people with disabilities."

From 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Thursday the Juneau Job Center will host an employer seminar where business owners and managers can learn the benefits of hiring disabled workers.

In addition to some tax credits, businesses that hire disabled workers can access some less-obvious benefits, Thomson said. Disabled employees are often very reliable, they receive positive job reviews and stay in positions for longer amounts of time.

Managers at Rainbow Foods - which was awarded the first-ever Disability Friendly Business award from SAIL, Juneau Works, the Juneau Job Center and other organizers of Disability Employment Awareness Month activities - can attest to the staying power of disabled employees.

"The one thing that I appreciate about it is the continuity and the fact that I or somebody else doesn't have to spend a lot of energy hiring a new dishwasher every two weeks," said David Ottoson, who owns Rainbow Foods.

The natural food store in downtown Juneau has worked with Juneau Works, a division of REACH, for four years to employ disabled workers.

Southeast Alaska Independent Living is showing a series of films this month highlighting different disabilities.

"Beyond Silence," a film about deaf parents who have a musically gifted daughter, will be shown today at 7 p.m. at the Silverbow Bakery, said Sarah Bosma, an independent living coordinator for SAIL.

"Benny and Joon," a movie featuring a developmentally disabled character, will be shown at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 23 at the Gold Town Nickelodeon Theater. "The Water Dance," about a paraplegic, will be shown at 8:10 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 29 at the University of Alaska Southeast Student Center. All screenings are free and open to the public.

"It's really to educate people about what they think a disability is versus what it really is," Bosma said. "An average person would probably walk away with a better understanding of what it is to be a person with a disability."

For more information about disability awareness month, contact SAIL at 586-4920, or Juneau Works at 789-7522.

• Christine Schmid can be reached at cschmid@juneauempire.com.

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