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 Job market improving for individuals with disabilities, too

October 3, 2014

Written by
Shaun Heasley


DAYTONA BEACH — Jeanette Sciulara had to wait until she was 50 to land her first job and she isn't leaving anytime soon.

“I love my job. I want to work here for the rest of my life,” said Sciulara, 56, who has cerebral palsy and tags items in the loss prevention department at Kmart on International Speedway Boulevard.

Workers with disabilities face an unemployment rate almost double that of the overall labor force — 12.1 percent in July versus 6.3 percent for the general population, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The recession hurt many job seekers, but the disabled were affected particularly hard, advocates say.

Sciulara is among those who found jobs and remained employed through the downturn.

And now, as the job market begins to pick up, advocates say they are seeing signs that it's improving for the disabled, too.

“We're working hard to improve employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities,” said Melanie Etters, a spokesperson for the Tallahassee-based Agency for Persons with Disabilities. Her agency received an additional $500,000 in July to provide internships and on-the-job training to employed people with disabilities statewide.

“We had a lot of people get laid off during the recession just like the rest of the population,” she said.

Of the roughly 30,000 Floridians with intellectual disabilities served by her agency, only 3,500 — or 11.6 percent — are currently employed, she said.

The recession and weak job market affected agencies locally.


Last year, WORC Inc., a Daytona Beach nonprofit agency that serves disabled Volusia-Flagler area residents, shut down its job-placement program and issued layoffs in its job coaching department, citing a loss of government grants. Other organizations serving the disabled had to scale back on their job placement services because companies simply were not hiring.

Mike Gussman, a job coach at The Arc of Volusia, said during the worst part of the recession, the agency had one job coach trying to place people in jobs.

“It was really rough out there — I remember one year we placed one person the entire year,” Gussman said.

The tide is turning, he said. The Arc now has two job coaches and they are looking to hire another.

“Things have picked up definitely,” Gussman said, adding that Arc has placed 12 workers in jobs this year.

Joey Burnside, a 46-year-old with partial blindness, epilepsy, seizures and slight cerebral palsy, was placed in a dish-washing position in March at the Steak 'n Shake in Ormond Beach.

He landed the position after a four-year job search on the free market, the term used by the disabled for jobs outside of nonprofit organizations.

Now Burnside has three part-time jobs, including positions at The Arc Dove Industries and the local chapter of the Agency for Persons with Disabilities.

“It wasn't easy, but I'm glad I found a place at Steak 'n Shake,” Burnside said, adding that now he will have the money for some of his favorite activities: square dancing, attending concerts and going to the races at Daytona International Speedway.

The disabled sometimes face discrimination in the hiring process, but one of their assets is a strong loyalty to their employers, said Etters with the Agency for Persons with Disabilities. That description certainly fits Sciulara who works at the Daytona Beach Kmart, her boss said.

“Jeanette is one of the most positive people here – she does everything with a smile on her face,” said Charlie Byrd, the Kmart manager. “She's one of our best employees.”

Byrd said Sciulara has shown up for work every scheduled workday — two days a week, four hours a day — on time and enthusiastic for the past six years. He said Kmart makes a point to hire people with disabilities “because everyone deserves a chance and the employees we have here (with disabilities) do such a great job.”

Etters said the Agency for Persons with Disabilities is making a larger effort to educate companies on the tax benefits of hiring people with disabilities.

According to Employ Florida, the Work Opportunity Tax Credit is a federal income tax credit that can be claimed by employers who hire employees from one of nine targeted groups, which includes Supplemental Security Income recipients.


“It's a good thing that hiring is starting up again — but it's still way behind where it should be,” she said.


POSTED: 9/12/2014