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Speakers: Disability no obstacle to employment

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Lewis Carter of the Northeastern Workforce Development Board speaks at a workshop for area high school students and young adults on overcoming disabilities to find employment at Museum of the Albemarle in Elizabeth City, Thursday. The workshop was hosted by the N.C. Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Friday, October 27, 2017

Disability should never deny someone a good career. That was one of the themes of “Disability Mentoring Day,” an event hosted by local educators and workforce developers Thursday at Museum of the Albemarle.

The N.C. Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services hosted the event as part of National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

The event drew dozens of high-schoolers and young adults aspiring to various fields, including 19-year-old Dejon Stutz, of Elizabeth City. He shared with the group that he overcame aggressive brain cancer in his childhood, and, while it left him with some disabilities, he intends to become a barber.

There are many organizations — and employers — eager to see disabled people succeed, the speakers told the gathering.

Gloria Jinks, of the state's Assistive Technology program, said she helps disabled people find technologies that help people with hearing, writing and other tasks. Even if people think they know what they need, she encouraged them to consult with her office to be sure they buy the best solution for them.

Officials from College of The Albemarle and Elizabeth City State University were also on hand to highlight their various course offerings — some only a few weeks long, in COA's case — and disability services, such as help with note-taking and special textbooks.

Other organizations represented at Thursday's workshop included WorkSource East, of Goldsboro, Skills Inc., and the NCWorks office.

Tameka Gibbs, an event organizer and business representative for the state's Vocational Rehabilitation office, estimated there are 1,000 or more people across northeastern North Carolina who have disabilities. There's no predominant type of disability Vocational Rehabilitation works with, she added. Disabilities may fall under physical, sensory, developmental, mental or other categories, she said.

Asked about local employers who stand out for hiring those with disabilities, she cited B&S Enterprises, Walmart, Mickey's Sales and Service, and several fast-food restaurants, including McDonald's, Hardee's, and Jersey Mike Subs.

A Vocational Rehabilitation press release announcing Thursday's event notes that it's long been a national priority to include the disabled in the modern workforce. Disability Awareness Month dates back to 1945.

Quoted in the release, U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta commented, “Americans of all abilities must have access to good, safe jobs” and that “smart employers” value employees with different perspectives and abilities.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, it is also illegal to discriminate against employees with disabilities. According to the ADA website, that means in part that employers with 15 or more employees must provide “reasonable accommodations” to employees with disabilities who are otherwise qualified.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, reachable at 1-800-669-4000 or 1-800-669-6820 (TTY), handles claims of employment discrimination.

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