Area career centers boost efforts to help disabled
Published: Saturday, March 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 28, 2003 at 9:47 p.m.
Disabled residents who are trying to find a job can get special help at a network of local career centers. But that doesn't mean they're treated differently than other clients.
The Florida Institute for Workforce Innovation, which helps operate four Alachua/Bradford One-Stop Career Center, is starting to get results from a $1 million grant it received last summer. The money is being used to increase training for the institute's workers, but also to enhance services for physically and mentally disabled persons who need help landing employment in the two counties.
Part of that effort has included small changes, such as devoting a larger computer station to clients who use wheelchairs, but it's not intended to separate the disabled from other job seekers, said Wanda Toby, the grant's project manager.
"We're trying to integrate people with disabilities into the regular employment system," Toby said. "There's a stigma associated with being disabled, which doesn't always mean you're confined to a wheelchair or have a mental illness. There are many forms of disabilities."
In recent weeks, the institute has been able to place some clients into jobs at a variety of businesses, including grocery stores and food service companies. The grant has also been used to train staff members to work with disabled job seekers, as well as establish a computer database for employment referrals and tracking the progress of clients at their new jobs.
"We've also done some workshops that show clients how to prepare for an interview and other aspects of the job search," Toby said. "What the grant has really done is create awareness among our staff. They're more sensitive toward disability-related issues in the workplace."
The network of four career centers - three in Alachua County and one in Bradford County - has also hired Frank Lane as a roaming "rehabilitation consultant." Lane acts as a go-between for disabled clients who need help filing for Social Security assistance or specific counseling on career issues.
Last summer, the institute received one of 23 "work incentive grants" nationwide from the U.S. Department of Labor. The $1 million grant is for a 30-month period and expires in late 2004.
With part of the money, the institute has paid for a study compiled by the University of Florida's rehabilitation counseling department. When complete, the report will assess each of the four centers' "physical and technological accessibility" for the disabled, Toby said.
"It might tell us we need to install some adjustable desks at one of the centers, for example," she said. "When we get the results back, we'll see what we can improve upon."
A continued tight labor market in Alachua County hasn't shown much job growth in recent months, and that's evident from one trend at the local career centers. Overall visits to the Alachua/Bradford facilities are up 20 percent through the first two months of the year, said Jay Trautman, the Florida Institute's regional director.
"There hasn't been much opening up for jobs, and we're also doing a lot more with less people this year," Trautman said. "I just hired three people to work for us for the next four months, just to get us through the fiscal year. But they'll be looking for jobs themselves when that runs out."
Joe Coombs can be reached at (352) 338-3102 or email@example.com.
Alachua/Bradford One-Stop Career Centers have four locations in the area. Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday.
- 4800 SW 13th St., (352) 955-2245
- 1000 NE 16th Ave., (352) 334-9675
- 249 W. University Ave., (352) 955-3200
- 609 N. Orange St., (904) 964-8092
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