A Chicago-based group is working with businesses to try to provide more jobs and opportunities to people with disabilities.
A Chicago-based group is working with businesses across the state to try to provide more jobs and opportunities to people with disabilities.
Disabilityworks, funded by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, was created in 2005 through the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce.
“The bottom line was that businesses aren’t educated about hiring us, so we don’t have jobs,” said Karen McCulloh, executive director for the statewide program.
The program focuses on job readiness, job placement and education. The positions
evolved to help educate businesses on the Americans with Disabilities Act, helping employers know what interview questions to ask a person with disabilities, and letting employers know what they can and should answer.
Disabilityworks has eight resource coordinators in Rockford, Chicago, Quincy, Mount Vernon, Mattoon, East St. Louis and Peoria. Nine of the group’s 14 employees are people with disabilities.
Linda Sullivan of Rockton started in 2004 as a disability program navigator for the Rock River Training Corp. When that grant ended, she became a resource coordinator with disabilityworks.
Sullivan, who is hearing-impaired, is based in Rockford but travels to disability-resource agencies — such as the Center for Sight & Hearing and the RAMP independent living center in Rockford — across seven northern Illinois counties. Her new focus is working with chambers of commerce and business networks to let them know she’s available as a resource.
She decided to become an advocate after she said she was wrongfully terminated from a manufacturing job in 2004.
“That changed my whole life, and I couldn’t be happier,” said Sullivan. “I feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be.”
The coordinators aren’t case managers, but they can help people one-on-one if needed. That’s how Sullivan met up with William Buckhanan, 43, of Rockford. Sullivan helped Buckhanan, who is deaf, find a second-shift job 18 months ago as a sanitation team member at Bremner Inc., a cookie manufacturer in South Beloit.
Buckhanan turned to Sullivan after searching unsuccessfully for a job for a year.
“I’m very satisfied with the job, and I’m happy to be there,” Buckhanan said through a video relay phone sign-language interpreter. “People there are friendly, and I have a good working relationship with them.”
A 2007 DePaul University study found that employees with disabilities in the health-care, retail and hospitality sectors are just as dependable and productive as people without disabilities. But misconceptions abound.
“Companies still can’t find reliable workers, but this study really shows that people with disabilities can meet the work-force needs,” said Justin DeJong, director of communications for the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce. “As more baby boomers are retiring this year, there are going to be more needs, and who’s going to step up and meet those needs?”
Melissa Westphal can be reached at 815-987-1341 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to get involved
If your business or organization has questions about employment and people with disabilities, e-mail Linda Sullivan, email@example.com, or visit disabilityworks.org.
You also can call Sullivan by first dialing 877-243-2823 for relay, then 815-395-0401.