By Lauren Wanko
It took Records Management Specialist Joann McKoy two-and-half years to find a job.
“Because people with disabilities, they kinda put us on the back burner. I need someone more qualified for this position because you’re disabled. But this job they opened their arms to me,” McKoy said.
McKoy, who struggles with disability, finally landed a job at Hudson Community Enterprises, a non-profit that provides jobs to people with disabilities.
“People with disabilities still are not being fully engaged and employed in the community and workplace and that’s something we’re trying to change,” said Rodger DeRose of the Kessler Foundation.
Over the years, the Kessler Foundation provided more than $1 million in grants to Hudson Community Enterprises, along with similar non-profits throughout the country, and they’ve partnered with companies like OfficeMax, Loews and PepsiCo to train, hire and retain workers with disabilities.
Just 17.6 percent of persons with a disability were employed in 2013 whereas 64 percent without a disability were employed. And eight in 10 persons with a disability were not in the workforce in 2013 versus three in 10 without a disability.
“Many times labels placed on people with disabilities. It’s almost as though there’s a sign on them that says, ‘I’m not capable of doing this job’ and it’s just the opposite of that,” DeRose said.
Louise Stevens-Gwin, who’s been with Hudson Community Enterprise for the past five years, is HIV positive.
“I’m not planning on leaving. In order for me to leave they’re gonna have to boot me out,” Stevens-Gwin said.
Hudson Community Enterprises has four businesses throughout the state — shredding, packaging, scanning and building management. The non-profit employs 500 staffers. Eighty of those staffers are here in their Jersey City location.
“A lot of people who are suffering from whatever disability they may have, this is a good opportunity for them to establish a good future,” Raul Nieves said.
“Well I think we’ve created a nurturing environment, one that welcomes people and one that focuses on what they can do, versus what they can’t do,” said Hudson Enterprise President Joe Brown.
Kessler Foundation’s DeRose says some solutions to moving the unemployment needle among the disabled population include teaching businesses that people with disabilities add value to the company, increasing the number of social enterprises and working to ensure American companies create initiatives to hire and train thousands of disabled individuals. But DeRose insists within the next decade the job outlook will change.
“We’re going to see real movement in hiring people with disabilities because there’s gonna be a shortage of jobs in the marketplace with baby boomers retiring,” he said.
Meantime, McKoy has no plans to retire anytime soon. She wants to keep working.