Officials at Katahdin Friends Incorporated, an employment advocacy organization for folks with disabilities, say when a person finds work, they also find a piece of themselves.
“In our society work is the most valued thing you can do. what do you do for a living? and so to heap onto someone who already may have some devalued status, and plus I don’t work, is tragic–and unnecessary,” said KFI’s CEO Gail Fanjoy.
KFI client Roy Smart has found that sense of purpose at Wendy’s in Bangor.
“It’s probably the greatest job I ever had,” said Smart.
His favorite part is working the grill…manager John Loevin says Smart is one of his best employees.
“It’s my job to hire someone and get the best out of them. So let me find out what he does really well, and let’s put him in that position,” said Loeven.
Smith says when he leaves work at the end of the day, “I feel good, like I did my job and I do it very well.”
At Maine Vocational Rehabilitation Associates in Bangor, the goal is to arm people with the tools for employment.
“We just want to get the word out to employers that there are many more folks wanting and willing to contribute in the same way,” said MVRA
One of their recent success stories is Tom Hall, who landed a job at Goodwill in Brewer.
“I had a five-week assessment. I did pretty good. And the people there, I get along very good with that I work with,” said Hall.
Right now job coach Lauren Colson works alongside him, but he could be on his own soon.
“It feels good to accomplish something,” said Hall.
Jill Raczek feels the same way about her job at Tiller and Rye.
“Just like being able to get my own stuff,” said Raczek. “To pay rent.”
In many cases the employer’s attitude makes all the difference, like at Millinocket Regional Hospital.
“We have open arms to anybody that has a disability, because they bring qualities that sometimes people that don’t have disabilities bring,” said Lynn Arsenault, VP of Human Resources
Perhaps the biggest success story we found was Alex Hall.
About a month ago Hall, who’s visually impaired, was hired as an IT analyst at Automatic Distributors in Bangor.
“A lot of the interview that I first had with my boss was more him just expressing amazement that I could do all this stuff,” said Alex Hall.
Hall says the key here at this company was being well-versed in all the technology he needed to succeed here, and he was ready to hit the ground running on day one.
Hall shows me how his braille-enabled phone computer screen reader make all the difference.
“My phone can talk to me and my computer can talk and braille displays are a thing. And people might look you and say ‘you can’t see or you can’t’–fill in the blank. But in a lot of cases, especially nowadays, technology has filled the gaps,” said Alex Hall.
Hall has a message for other employers who may not be as open minded.
“Someone with a disability is going to have a lot harder time finding work. So when they get that work, they’re going to be a lot more eager to keep it. You almost are going to be guaranteed to get a much more motivated person than perhaps someone without a disability who could just walk out and find another job relatively easily,” said Alex Hall.
Advocates we spoke to point out that given Maine’s aging and declining population, it’s more important than ever to find ways to incorporate workers with disabilities into the workforce–for the sake of Maine’s economy and future.