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Coming Full Circle: From Job-Seeker to Job Counselor

Janice Duvall Picture

Celebrating its 16th anniversary this year, AbilityLinks.org, the award-winning job-opportunity network, is launching a brand-new website to further their impact. The launch represents a major change for the web-based program, created in 2001 to promote the hiring of people with disabilities.

AbilityLinks, a program of Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital, part of Northwestern Medicine, has helped over 700 job-seekers with disabilities find employment, four of which were within Marianjoy itself.

Janice Duvall, Information Specialist for AbilityLinks, was one of those employees, back in 2002. With prior work experience in ministry and teaching, Janice was looking for a new direction that would utilize her skills, while accommodating her vision disability. She says, “Employment had been frustrating—previous employers were not always understanding or accommodating. It was intimidating to explain my disability to people.”

Duvall came to AbilityLinks to look for a job, but their staff saw more. “They saw my passion about disability advocacy and desire to help people, and they called me to offer me a job,” she says. “I took it instantly! I have always been open about my disability, but it has been wonderful to work in an arena where it is not only acceptable to have one, but an asset. My experience with rejection, insecurity and not belonging allows me to relate to and encourage other job-seekers to overcome those fears. I’m also able to show them AbilityLinks and Marianjoy practice what they preach, by hiring employees with disabilities, themselves.

Duvall says she is heartened to see the disability advocacy network is being populated by more and more people with disabilities, themselves. She has seen a remarkable shift, and AbilityLinks is part of that.

“Our new website is a result of thoughtful collaboration with site users, including business leaders and job-seekers, as well as our own staff and steering committee, all in thinking about the current challenges employers and job-seekers face,” says Ken Skord, AbilityLinks Program Director.

New website features include a more accessible design, which is easier to navigate, with a more appealing look and feel. Résumés and jobs alike have become quicker and easier to post. Even while offline, users can utilize the site by setting up automated job-search agents to identify matches and report job-listing views.

In celebration of this launch, AbilityLinks is hosting a series of three webinars, designed to educate employers about hiring people with disabilities and helping job-seekers represent themselves well. Each event is open to the public and requires free registration at www.abilitylinks.org.

The first event, occurring on June 14, is targeted towards employers, diversity officers and human resources representatives, featuring stories and advice from employees with disabilities thriving within large organizations. Additionally, a representative from the Department of Labor/OFCCP will answer your questions and share success tips related to the new 7 percent representation goal for qualified individuals with disabilities.

The next event, on June 16, is aimed at job-seekers with disabilities, presented by TCF Bank and hosted by AbilityLinks. The webinar will explain how companies process applications and teach how to prepare for the phone-screening interview.

“Ace the Interview, Land the Job,” scheduled for July 20, focuses on the final interview step for job-seekers with disabilities. The webinar, presented by staffing agency Advanced Resources and hosted by AbilityLinks, is designed to help job-seekers prepare, perform and professionally follow up in the interview process. Participants can learn valuable tips on how to succeed in this crucial stage.

The AbilityLinks team offers support to job-seekers, employers and service providers by creating connections and strategies that promote a more inclusive workforce. AbilityLinks also offers a mentoring program, which connects job-seekers with an established working professional for input and encouragement in their job search.

“As of May 2017, only about 20 percent of people with disabilities reported being employed, compared to nearly 70 percent of people without disabilities,” Skord said. “Employers and federal contractors can positively impact this rate by learning strategies of inclusion with our webinars and participating in our virtual job fairs, networking with this talented workforce.”

Duvall says she is optimistic about changes their new website will foster. She enjoys getting to help people find success, just as she has. “AbilityLinks has been instrumental in my career. I feel like all of my life has led me here—that my difficult experiences can help others. With our new website program, we can do that now more than ever.”