Linda Benoit thought a position with Goodwill Industries’ janitorial division might be a good fit. She worked at a local McDonald’s restaurant from 2000 to 2010 doing general cleaning and greeting customers.
“I kept the lobby clean, I kept the bathrooms clean. I greeted the people. I cleaned the parking lot,” Benoit said summarizing her duties.
“And I washed the dishes when they needed it,” she added, “though I didn’t cook.”
Benoit, who hasn’t worked since March, was surveying possible job opportunities Tuesday morning at the Eighth annual Work Pays Job Fair at Louisiana Technical College. She was there with husband Larry Benoit, who’s employed as a janitor at the LSU School of Music.
What makes this job fair different from many others is its focus on job-seekers who have a disability.
Benoit has had cerebral palsy since birth. She’s also hearing impaired. In today’s work climate when even the most able-bodied seem to struggle to find jobs, those with disabilities often face additional hurdles that are often health- or transportation-related, say labor officials.
The August nationwide unemployment rate for the disabled was 16.1 percent, according the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“You want to look for opportunities and try to take advantage of opportunities when you can,” advised William Moak, 49, who suffered a brain injury in 1983 that left him recuperating from mental and physical injuries. Moak now works in technical support for AT&T Mobile, a position he got at a job fair just like this one six years ago and supports with his attendance.
Since his injury, Moak went on to serve on the state’s Medicaid Buy-In task force. The task force helped to develop the Louisiana Medicaid Purchase Plan, which provides affordable health coverage to working people with disabilities.
“This made an enormous difference in giving opportunity to people to go to work,” Moak said. Access to adequate and affordable health insurance is generally a top concern for the disabled. And many health insurance plans — particularly those serving companies with few employees — will not insure pre-existing conditions.
About a dozen employers were represented at the job fair Tuesday, which is funded by the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals and organized by the Louisiana Workforce Commission. They included retailers like Sam’s Club, Lowe’s and Sears. Frito Lay was there as well as Capital Area Corporate Recycling Center, a nonprofit that takes old computers, repairs them and makes them available to low-income families or other nonprofits like churches.
The organization is currently fully staffed, said Clayton Forbes, its communication director. However, CACRC often takes interns who then receive computer technology training.
“It’s just the nature of what we do, we have people in our warehouse who are computer technicians and it can be the stepping stone to other computer construction jobs, and so we’re always looking,” Forbes said.
No one should be limited by his or her disabilities, said Brandon Adams, a 33-year-old keyboard player who suffers from paralysis in his right arm.
“Music just pretty much came easy to me,” Adams said. His grandmother taught piano lessons and saw his gift. “I was able to start touring and traveling and becoming an understudy for other people.”
Adams was at the job fair Tuesday, if only to offer his life as a success story from which others might glean inspiration.
“It’s never the end. It’s only the beginning,” he reflected. “You never know exactly what your journey is going to be.
“What people may call a disability, or an inability, might just be just another fork in the road,” said Adams.