In America we are always looking to create new jobs for individuals. One market that is not utilized to its full potential are persons with disabilities. As October is Disability Employment Awareness Month, it is important to bring further awareness to this under-employed demographic.
Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lauren Singleton at The Center for Independent Living of North Central Florida. Lauren serves as an Employment Consultant at the CIL. Before I start, here’s a little background on the Centers for Independent Living in Florida and their history.
The Center for Independent Living movement was started by Ed Roberts at the University of California Berkeley. The movement grew out of the Civil Rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s. The first CIL in Florida was established in 1976 according to Floridacils.org. Lauren explained that the CIL has 5 Core services which all CILs strive to provide: Independent Living Skills, Information and Referral, Peer Support, Advocacy, and Transition.
Although employment is not one of their core services, many CILs provide employment support services. The CIL of North Central Florida, which has offices in Gainesville and Ocala, has provided employment services for many years. They recognize that, according to Lauren, “Employment is vital to the progression of people with disabilities to aid in becoming full members of society.”
Recently, the CIL of North Central Florida in Ocala held an open house to raise awareness about the center and highlight its programs. Employment was one of the many topics addressed during the event. Throughout the evening, Lauren educated the attendees about what happens when a person with a disability seeks employment using the CIL. She began by outlining the fact that in order to work with the CIL for employment, an individual must be evaluated by a Vocational Rehabilitation counselor and referred to the center as the chosen vendor. She acknowledged that there were other vendors one could choose to work with and that it was solely the decision of the consumer as to which vendor they choose.
The employment process can be time-consuming. An individual must provide tangible proof that he or she has a disability but does not necessarily have to be on SSI or SSDI to qualify for services. Once referred, the process begins with an intake and an interest survey to gain insight as to what type of employment the consumer is seeking. The process continues with the Employment Consultant networking community resources for potential competitive employment opportunities. There is no set time frame for the process to be completed; for some individuals, placement occurs quickly, while for others it may take a bit longer. However, Lauren emphasizes that the Employment Consultant cannot do it on his or her own, and that the consumer needs to be actively involved in the process.
I thought the CIL Open House was extremely informative and well put together. I currently work with the CIL as a consumer and believe that the services that agencies like it offer are helpful; however, the effort to employ more people with disabilities will require more than just the work of a few agencies. It will also require a concerted effort by society to change the value they put on people with disabilities as a whole.