Abilities are focus of Disabilities Awareness Month

By Greg Gelpi

People may have disabilities, but those shouldn't hide their abilities.

"I see a new man," Robert Jones, who completed WORKTEC janitorial training, said. "It made me more independent. It keeps me busy so I don't think about my illness."

Jones, 41, of Ellenwood has been out of work since 1989 because of a mental disability, but said he'll be back to work by December.

WORKTEC focuses on what people can do, rather than what they can't do, assisting people with any physical or mental disability that hinders them from obtaining employment.

"It makes me feel good," he said. "It makes me feel like I'm accomplishing things."

Aron Trotter, 19, just began training to work the switchboard at WORKTEC. He also works at the center's warehouse, assembling lights for cars and organizing hangers.

"It feels good to learn something new," Trotter said. "My parents are proud of me because I'm being more responsible."

In its 27th year, WORKTEC is looking to expand its services by providing more opportunities for people with disabilities to train on-site at area businesses.

FedEx in Ellenwood, one such provider, has more than 20 WORKTEC participants on staff, said Scott Reid, the human resources representative at the FedEx location.

"WORKTEC has been very good to me for recruiting and doing community service," Reid said.

From those with learning disabilities to those unable to speak, he said FedEx has put WORKTEC participants to work loading and unloading tractor-trailer trucks as well as processing the shipments on the trucks, he said.

Since partnering with WORKTEC in June 2003, FedEx has received "outstanding" employees, Reid said, adding that two have been promoted to full-time status.

WORKTEC recently established its business advisory board to promote more such business partnerships, Charles Waters, WORKTEC's employment services director, said.

"We are constantly looking to develop what we call community-based work sites," Waters said.

The "real measurement of abilities" is performing in "real life work," he said.

Ideally, the job training will lead to job placement, Waters said.

WORKTEC has served more than 800 people this year and more than 10,000 since its start.

When people with disabilities arrive at WORKTEC, they receive an evaluation and set vocational goals and plans for reaching those goals, Hattie Thompson, program manager, said.

"It's like practice work experience, but here they have the support," Thompson said. "We look at the individual and what their needs are, but once again the goal is employment."

To commemorate National Disabilities Employment Awareness Month, WORKTEC will hold its awards ceremony at 4:30 p.m. Thursday at its facilities.

The keynote speak will be Paul Boan, an employment specialist with Samaritan & Associates.

Boan lost a majority of his hearing when he was 18 months old, yet excelled at Georgia College & State University and Gallaudet University.