Oct. 15, 2003 – Stacia Browne had nearly given up her year-long search for a job. The 26-year-old had applied at hotels, restaurants, business offices — anywhere there was an opening where she could put her office skills and customer service experience to use.
"I was always the last one on the list," she said.
The reason? Many employers could not look beyond her physical disability. One of Stacia's arms was amputated at the elbow. Most employers, when they saw her, gave preference to hiring someone else, she said.
Just as she was about to lose hope, Browne found Work-Able Inc., which provides employment services for Virgin Islanders with disabilities. Work-Able helped her prepare her résumé, provided training in job preparedness and application writing, and sent her out in the field to meet with potential employers. On Wednesday, Browne spent much of the day at Roy L. Schneider Hospital filing and sorting through medical records.
Wednesday was National Disability Mentoring Day, and Browne was one of 32 people on St. Thomas and 28 on St. Croix who spent the day with participating employers. The V.I. observance was sponsored by Work-Able; the Education, Human Services and Labor Departments; the American Association of People with Disabilities; and the U.S. Labor Department's Office of Disability Employment Policy. Hovensa and Banco Popular provided local corporate support.
"Disability Mentoring Day provides job-seekers with disabilities first-hand experience in learning about career opportunities they are interested in," Work-Able's director, Gwendolyn Powell, said. In addition to serving people with disabilities, the agency provides training services to students looking for work.
Last year was the first time Work-Able sponsored the local mentoring day observance, and it paid off — translating into several ongoing relationships, internships, and a few firm job offers for many people with disabilities, Powell said. For the day, job seekers were paired with mentors at a designated work place who showed them what their jobs are and how they do them. This "job shadowing" has proven to be a learning experience for some employers as well as for the job seekers.
"They were so enthusiastic and able to do the work," Pat Blyden, medical records supervisor at Schneider Hospital, said of Wednesday's Work-Able participants. "This is an excellent program because it gives us a pool of talented, capable workers who want to do the job."
At the end of the day, Browne exuded excitement. "Everyone is so nice here. I wouldn't mind working here at all," she said, beaming, after spending day the filing and retrieving medical records. "The smiles are what work — it's hard not to be happy when everyone around you treats you with respect and courtesy," she said.
That's all that most people with disabilities ask: to be treated equally, said Margaret Richardson, a counselor with VI Resource Center for the Disabled, which collaborated with Work-Able on the mentoring program.
"Stacia's like many others I counsel who are very knowledgeable and skillful in doing work," Richardson said. "Unfortunately, people assume she can't do certain things because she has one arm. But when they spend time with her, they realize they were wrong." She added: "A visual disability is sometimes one of the hardest obstacles to overcome."
At the hospital, Blyden said, she gave Browne a task to do, "one that I was going to do myself. And she not only did it well; she did it with enthusiasm."
So often, Blyden said, "people assume things about someone's disability when the reality is quite different." When it comes to hiring, she said, "it shouldn't make a difference if a person has a disability … The question is: Can they do the job?"
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