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'We don't exclude anybody:' CT group works to get jobs for people with disabilities

In this May 18, 2018, photo, Miles Thornback, left, who has cerebral palsy, works on marketing campaigns for agents talks with Jordan Wilson at RE/MAX Prestige real estate office in Costa Mesa, Calif. Thornback got hired three years ago at the real estate agency after the owners heard that he’d spent six years applying for jobs at hundreds of companies and finding nothing but negative mindsets.
Chris Carlson
/
AP
In this May 18, 2018, photo, Miles Thornback, left, who has cerebral palsy, works on marketing campaigns for agents talks with Jordan Wilson at RE/MAX Prestige real estate office in Costa Mesa, Calif. Thornback got hired three years ago at the real estate agency after the owners heard that he’d spent six years applying for jobs at hundreds of companies and finding nothing but negative mindsets.

Six out of every 10 working-age Americans who have a disability are unemployed. That’s the finding of the most recently released Annual Disability Statistics Compendium.

Stephanie Trelli works for the Bureau of Rehabilitation Services(BRS), a federally-funded organization run by the state of Connecticut. Its mission is to help residents with disabilities find jobs. Trelli says the first battle is helping people with physical and mental disabilities believe in themselves.

“I think individuals with disabilities have, unfortunately, this preconceived notion — due to a lot of uneducated information of the past — that they're unable to work,” Trelli said.

Many of the services offered by the BRS are typical of any job placement agency.

“Anything down to resume writing, interview preparation, some job exploratory services through the guidance and counseling, finding that right fit," Trelli said.

The BRS does not consider its job done after a job is won.

“We then move forward into making sure that they can maintain that employment,” Trelli said. “Anything down to accessible technology identifying if a reasonable accommodation is needed to job coaching. There's some individuals that require some more support.”

Trelli says the BRS also see’s educating employers about the benefits of hiring people with disabilities as a primary directive.

“Some employers need some additional education on how to really partner with our agency and (to) learn how to work with individuals — and inviting individuals with disabilities into their workplace,” Trelli said.

The BRS hopes to impart some of that education to employers and share employment opportunities with job seekers at a free conference at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford on Sept. 27.

“This (will be an) opportunity for businesses to become educated,” Trelli said. For example, “employers have workforce opportunity tax credits if they hire individuals with disabilities. So they're gonna really kind of shed some light on what is the incentive in hiring individuals with disability.”

A recent CT Mirror reportshed light on the fact that some workers with disabilities in Connecticut are being paid far below minimum wage. Some are being paid as little as $3.50 an hour.

The Mirror reports18 companies statewide are allowed to do this as holders of what's known as “14-c” certificates. Section 14C of the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act authorizes employers to pay sub-minimum wages to workers with disabilities that impair their productivity for the work they perform.

Trelli said while her organization matches people with disabilities with minimum-wage jobs or higher, sub-minimum wage jobs through the Department of Developmental Services are resources for those who can't keep up with more demanding jobs.

“It's appropriate to say, ‘let's continue to build the skilled sets,'” Trelli said. “The Department of Developmental Services will continue to work with you and preparing you for employment and in the future regardless of what time frame that looks like.”

John Henry Smith is Connecticut Public’s host of All Things Considered, its flagship afternoon news program. He's proud to be a part of the team that won a regional Emmy Award for The Vote: A Connecticut Conversation. In his 21st year as a professional broadcaster, he’s covered both news and sports.

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