Resource Center Recognizes Disability Employment Awareness

For those individuals living with disabilities, the feelings of pride, dignity and self-respect that come with getting — and maintaining —  a job are not taken for granted.

With only one-third of working-age people with disabilities employed, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, individuals with disabilities face an uphill battle in both adapting to new business environments and defying employer expectations.

On Monday, in acknowledgement of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, The Resource Center recognized those individuals with disabilities, who through the center, were able to achieve “milestone” years of employment with local businesses.

These milestone years ranged from one year of service to 25 years of service.

According to Terri Johnson, director of employment and community based services at TRC, the center wanted to reflect on the important role that people with disabilities bring to the community and the workforce.

“I’m very proud of all of the hard work that they put in to maintain their job … it isn’t easy,” she said. “We have great relationships with many employers and support over 200 people working in the community at over 80 businesses in Chautauqua County. So we do have a pretty wide reach, but we’re always looking for more employers to partner with us.”

One of the challenges, she said, is that many individuals with disabilities are only able to work part-time jobs due to personal or medical reasons.

Moreover, according to labor statistics, people with disabilities are underrepresented in 16 of the top 20 fastest-growing occupations, and conversely overrepresented in 17 of the top 20 fastest-declining occupations.

“It’s hard to sometimes convince businesses to take that leap,” Johnson said. “One of our big pushes when we talk to employers is we ask ‘where are you going to find someone to wash dishes for 25 years?’ A lot of times, (employers) have people who come and go in those types of positions (while people with disabilities stay).”

“So it really is a testament to people with disabilites who want to work like everyone else.”

Steve Waterson, director of community relations at TRC, also acknowledged how those with disabilities exceed expectations.

“One of things we found over the years is that employers will come back to us and say we didn’t realize what dedicated employees people with disabilities would make,” he said. “(Employers) talk about how people with disabilities tend to take less time off, have less unscheduled absences … and they’re happy to be there and grateful for the opportunity to work.”

During Monday’s ceremony, Gregory Slagle was recognized for his service as part of a cleaning crew at the Interstate 86 rest area in Bemus Point. He was awarded the William B. Joslin Award by the New York State Industries for the Disabled or NYSID.

Tristan Wassman, who for several years, worked and volunteered at the Lucile M. Wright Air Museum, was recognized by the museum. Wassman passed away during the summer and a certificate of recognition was presented to his parents.

Observed in October, National Disability Employment Awareness Month is a nationwide campaign celebrating the skills and talents workers with disabilities bring to our workplaces. Led nationally by the Labor Department’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, NDEAM’s true spirit lies in the many grassroots observances held nationwide every year.

Celebrating a 25-year milestone was Alan Kinsey at Pizza Hut. Celebrating 20 years were Wendy Gens at Country Fair; Michael Krauza at Environmental Services; and Anthony Trussalo at Red Lobster.

Celebrating 15 years were Mary Davis, Cory Nowell and Mary Shelton — all at Environmental Services.

Celebrating 10 years were David Hartung at SUNY Fredonia; Shane Josephson at TRC Dietary Kitchen; Clifford Loucks at BOCES; Paul Miller at Bush Industries; and Justin Wicklund at Environmental Services.

Celebrating five years of service were Roberta Angelo at Celoron A at TRC; Sara Binkiwitz at Denny’s; Robbie Dickey at Environmental Services; Teresa Dunn at Environmental Services; Victor Karas III at Environmental Services; Wes Labarbera at A-1 Auto Service; Robert Martiny at Wal-Mart; Desa Rae Nichols at Allied Industries; Charles Nobbs at Allied Industries; Heather Potter at The Basket Co.; Randy Ross at Allied Industries; and Trudy Shoemaker at Environmental Services.

Nearly 25 others reached a one-year milestown.