By Beth Palmer, LaGrangePatch, November 29, 2010
In 2009, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities who did not have a job, were available for work, and were actively looking for a job was 14.5 percent, data published recently by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows. The unemployment rate for job seekers without a disability was about 9 percent in 2009.
"Individuals with a disability were more likely to be unemployed than were those with no disability," the Aug. 25, 2010 news release stated.
Bill O'Connor works to close that gap, living by the mantra that every month is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, a title officially designated to October, and handling social media marketing and job seeker counseling for Wheaton-based AbilityLinks.org, the nonprofit organization he turned to for help as a job seeker with an acquired physical disability.
The 10-year La Grange Park resident—who lives with his wife, Christine, a Nazareth Academy graduate, and Barney, a dog with a physical disability they adopted—knows from experience how frustrating job seeking can be as a person with a disability.
O'Connor had found success working in sales for Internet companies for eight years until a hemorrhagic stroke in September '02 sent him to
When he returned to his job, he had lost his clients and the company started him at the bottom, with difficult accounts. The market had shifted and he was unable to gain footing with the new clients; he was terminated.
He began applying for new jobs and gained interviews, an experience which felt foreign.
"I used to be very confident coming into job interviews. I was never turned down for a position I had applied to," he said.
But this time around, he wasn't getting offers.
"I noticed employers noticed I shook hands with my left hand," he said. "I realized it had to do with my disability."
He became depressed and ultimately was unemployed for more than two years until he heard about AbilityLinks.org, which is a division of Marianjoy, where he had spent time rehabilitating. Janice Duvall, who has a visual disability, recommended him for an information referrals specialist position.
Now, O'Connor and Duvall, both information and referral specialists, are two of the nonprofit's three employees. And, in the age of technology, three people have the ability to reach people all over the nation: in the past year, AbilityLinks.org helped about 50 people with disabilities find a job. To put that number in context, in October 2010, there were about 840,000 people in the U.S. who have a disability who were unemployed—i.e., who did not have a job, were available for work, and were actively looking for a job—according to data collected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
AbilityLinks.org offers a free online venue for job seekers to post resumes and for employers to post ads, periodic virtual job fairs, resume critique, mentoring and educational webinars. Perhaps it's best described in 140 characters or less, as O'Connor writes in "about us" of the @AbilityLinks Twitter feed he manages: "A.org where job seekers with disabilities, inclusive employers and service providers meet and access valuable job & networking prospects."
In addition to being the man behind the curtain for the organization's Twitter, LinkedIn and upcoming Facebook pages, O'Connor counsels job seekers with disabilities. Although he's not a licensed counselor, he can empathize and answer questions about when it's a good time to reveal a disability to an employer, or how to ask for accommodations during an interview.
His job also involves speaking to employers about how hiring someone with a disability not only raises their diversity and inclusion, but is good for the bottom line. Customers respond and want to continue to patronize a business where they see a person with disabilities working, he said.
"It shows the business is forward thinking," he said.
He said one myth common among employers is that accommodating a person with disabilities in the work place is costly. Not so, he said. For example, his own accommodation was simply moving his computer mouse pad from the right to the left.
O'Connor can't stress enough how important it is for job seekers with disabilities to utilize the resources on AbilityLink.org; he gives this advice: "When you have time down, go harder for it. Looking for a full time job is a full time job. Don't give up."
Thanks to LagrangePatch for allowing AbilityLinks to use this article. View the article on LaGrangePatch.