Job Center employees examine employment barriers for people with disabilities

Employees and clients from Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD) spoke candidly with OhioMeansJobs/ Columbus-Franklin County Job Center employees about their experiences searching for and keeping employment as people with physical and mental disabilities.

“You’re not going to be able to work with your body, so you will have to work with your mind,” says Rob Schaller, a vocational rehabilitation supervisor at OOD, who explained how living with a disability made him become more clever and thoughtful with simple tasks, including opening doors. “This world just isn’t built for me, but I want to do things for myself.”

(L-R) Matt Sabins, Devin Aumend, and Rob Schaller of OOD discuss their experiences job searching as people with disabilities. Kelly Jordan of OOD (R) served as moderator for the Windmills Training.

The panel was the final part of Windmills Training, an interactive program provided by OOD to employers to enhance understanding and awareness of the Americans with Disabilities Act. In order to be more effective in their work assisting the public and employers, the Job Center employees took part in the five-session training that helped them examine their attitudes and possible biases toward people with disabilities.

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OMJ-CFC Job Center staff attended the five-class Windmills Training to better understand working with people with disabilities.

“The public is not your world. It is a very diverse body of people,” says COWIC Youth Services Liaison Keith Williams, who took part in the training. Working directly with youth and service providers, he says the training gives him insight on how to advocate for and market to youth with disabilities when helping them looking for employment and education opportunities. “When we are lining up worksites and opportunities for youth, we have to be able to articulate things so youth with disabilities feel welcome in the process. We have to have conversations with employers about people with disabilities up front.”

Devin Aumend, a vocational rehabilitation counselor at OOD, explained how she graduated valedictorian, and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees, never feeling limited by being wheelchair-bound since a very young age. However, while job searching, she realized that even as a mental health counselor, she faced indirect discrimination.

“I couldn’t find a job in community mental health because many of the positions were home-based or required riding in cars and I couldn’t perform those duties,” Aumend says. “Those things [also] weren’t on the job description.”

Matt Sabins, an OOD client with mental illness who owns a business, says people with mental illnesses often face different types of barriers to employment, based on stigmas that mental illness is rare and causes violence.

“I have a mental illness based off something people can’t see or hear,” Sabins says. “People think there’s nothing wrong with me, but it’s something that affects me in subtle and not so subtle ways.”

The panel encouraged Job Center employees to help job seekers identify disability-friendly companies, and be mindful not to treat all people with disabilities the same way.

“It’s OK to ask to help,” says Schaller. “It’s also OK to back off if they want to figure out things themselves.”