Empowering Job Seekers with Disabilities

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month
Empowering Job Seekers with Disabilities


When you hire an employee through JVS Chicago, you get a team. And that is no less true when hiring employees with disabilities.

“The team approach is very effective,” said Helene Levine, Manager of Workplace Services, “especially with clients who come to us with greater challenges. We can brainstorm and strategize about job placement, readiness, preparation, and helping to find jobs. We also can provide job coaching backup after the client is hired.”

Levine supervises a team in the Supported Employment Program that includes Training Specialist Jacqueline Doolittle.

Jacqueline Doolittle_edited-2Doolittle and Carly Evans, an Employment Specialist for another JVS Chicago program that helps job seekers who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing, represent the newest generation of specialists who work with clients referred by the State of Illinois. JVS Chicago helps these clients referred through the Department of Rehabilitative Services or the Department of Youth Services to become successful employees. The extent to which the team can be effective is astonishing, a timely point to note during National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

Matching client skills to job requirements.

“A client of mine was a deaf person who didn’t know how to sign, read, or write, and he lacked basic language skills,” said Evans. “Office Max hired him as a warehouse associate. He’s been very successful there.” Evans credits the man’s success to his being “a hard worker,” but having the right Employment Specialist certainly helped him to get work.

Evans’ boss Leah Rudy, Supervisor of Client Services, is effusive in her praise of Carly’s work with clients who are deaf and hard of hearing.

“Carly really goes out on a limb for clients,” Rudy said. “She’ll arrive early or stay late and is a wonderful advocate for her clients; she won’t hesitate to talk with employers to see that needs are addressed. She made the most placements last year of anyone on our team — a couple dozen in her first full year here.”

Carly decided she wanted to work with the deaf and hard of hearing community after her best friend in middle school Joanna, who was deaf, taught Evans to sign. After receiving a rehabilitative counseling degree from Northern Illinois University, she worked as a teacher’s aide in Hinsdale before joining the JVS Chicago staff almost two years ago. Now she covers Chicago’s southern and western suburbs for the agency out of its Lombard office – which she’s rarely in.  “I do a lot of driving to meet with clients,” said Evans.

“My job is to meet with individual clients and help them look for work,” she said. “I help them with resumes, cover letters, applications and deciphering job descriptions. The most challenging part of my job is seeing people frustrated by their job search, thinking there is something wrong with them for not finding a job.”

Family involvement, creative thinking

Doolittle said she doesn’t work with just the clients; she is involved with entire families.

“A part of my job is coaching parents and guardians about how to let their children join the workforce,” she said. “A parent can’t be at the job every step of the way. It’s not technically part of my job description, but I find myself doing it. What I tell parents really depends on the client. I try to focus on how it’s good for the child to feel independent and how proud a job will make them feel.”

She also has learned to recognize that clients have different types of intelligence.

“You have to be a creative thinker in my job,” said Doolittle. “All people have different learning styles, and this can be especially true for people with disabilities. You have to learn how the client thinks and responds. For example, I had a client who could read and sign, but for her, pictures increased the rate at which she learned. She was a visual learner. Once we discovered that and talked with her employer about it, she was much more productive.”

Another creative aspect of the job, according to Jacqueline, is “not looking for posted jobs; it’s approaching employers and creating new positions for people with disabilities. I’m very excited to be pursuing that aspect of the work.”

Future leaders

Both Evans and Doolittle seem like future leaders to their supervisors.

“Jacqueline has grown in confidence when dealing with clients, family members and funders,” said Levine, “and that confidence has made her more effective in placement success. She is very compassionate and understanding and a good mentor, which are also aspects of leadership.

“For sure Carly Evans will become a leader over time,” said Rudy. “She has come out of her comfort zone to present at a state conference and joined the Orientation and Training Committee of JCFS. She does a good job of mentoring others.”

But the main focus of both Evans and Doolittle is on the clients.

“Some of my clients don’t even know what a job application is when we start,” Doolittle said. “When I see clients who can work on their own without any coaching, that is my greatest reward. I love to see that and know that they are happy.”

For more information on the agency’s work with people who have disabilities, visit http://jvschicago.org/employment-services-for-people-with-disabilities/ or email info@jvschicago.org.

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