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People with disabilities prove value in workforce, expert says

REPOST ARTICLE SOURCE:

http://triblive.com/business/headlines/2826181-74/disabilities-disability-casino-lamon-california-employers-mcelveen-workplace-administrative-creating#axzz2cVpJl9Am

downloadLife’s Work of Western PA’s CEO Everett McElveen (left) and speaker Dana LaMon share a laugh Wednesday Oct. 24, 2012 before LaMon, a retired administrative law judge and professional speaker gave his address at an event hosted by Life’sWork of Western PA at the Rivers Casino on the North Side to raise awareness and educate employers on the benefits of hiring workers with disabilities.

LaMon lost his sight at the age of four and says he has learned how to make each moment meaningful despite his visual impairment. He spoke about ways employers can create a disability-friendly workplace.

Dana LaMon knows the difficulties involved with effectively running an inclusive workplace for disabled employees.

The retired California administrative law judge commended Rivers Casino officials on Wednesday for helping a hearing-disabled employee achieve her career goals and urged other business officials to do more for potential workers with functional disabilities.

“The mere fact that we have some functional limitations doesn’t diminish the fact we have talents that we can use,” said LaMon, who spoke at the North Shore casino during an event sponsored by Life’s Work of Western Pennsylvania about the benefits of hiring people with disabilities and creating a disability-friendly workplace.

U.S. employment figures show the jobless rate for people with disabilities stands at 13.5 percent, compared with 7.3 percent for people without a disability. Only about one in five people with disabilities participates in the workforce, compared with seven out of 10 people without a disability, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Rivers Casino employs 1,800 people, including 15 with physical or mental disabilities, said employment manager Marne Deithorn.

Among them is Angelica, a hearing-impaired woman who was hired as a cook in 2011. The casino declined to give her last name.

“While there was some apprehension (about hiring her), there also was excitement,” Deithorn said. “She has been excelling every single day.”

Angelica looks out for other hearing-impaired employees and teaches those who can hear some sign language, Deithorn said. She recently won an employee award.

LaMon, who lost his sight in a childhood fall, graduated from Yale University and the University of Southern California Law Center before serving 29 years as an administrative judge with California’s Social Services Department. He learned that an employer must learn about the person, not just the person’s disability, when he ran an independent living facility in Long Beach, Calif., that included seven employees with disabilities ranging from dwarfism to paralysis to being an amputee.

Among the barriers that prevent employers from creating an inclusive work environment are attitude, LaMon said, which includes viewing the disabled as damaged. Other problems are stereotyping, paternalism and rigidly sticking to status quo.

Richard Musser, assistant district administrator for the state Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, said state and federal tax credits and starting-wage reimbursement programs are incentives to hire people with disabilities.

Life’s Work, based in Uptown, has helped more than 100,000 people with disabilities or other employment barriers over its 85-year history. Executive Director Everett McElveen said the organization works one-on-one with about 1,500 clients and employers each year.

“There must be a good fit between the employers and the client,” McElveen said. “It really is about getting over that perception that it’s going to be a problem or somehow disrupt with work. That just isn’t the case.”

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