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Young Adults with ‘Invisible Disabilities’ Deserve Good Jobs

Edward’s Story…
I have both bachelor’s and master’s degrees. But I struggled for many years with anxiety which caused me to worry excessively and interfered with my performance at work.
After being let go from yet another job, I came to the CDC, where my career counselor was also a licensed therapist. Together we explored both my career goals and the pervasive fears that were holding me back. Despite many bumps along the road, I secured a temp job which turned into a permanent position where I am now a valued, successful employee with advancement opportunities.

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). This year’s theme is “America’s Workforce: Empowering All.” The latest government figures put the U.S. unemployment rate at 3.7%, the lowest level in decades. But according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), nearly 4 million Americans with mental illness who would like to work are unemployed. Millions more work part time and/or at very low wages.

“JFCS Career Development Center recognized a void in services for young adults with mental health challenges and autism,” says Sarah Welch, JFCS Career Development Center Director. “They have great skills and education but were not finding skilled employment.”

JFCS Career Development Center has always been a trusted entity for innovative career guidance. In 2014, with the support of United Way of Southwestern PA, JFCS Career Development Center initiated efforts to address the needs of this unique population. Career counselors with therapeutic backgrounds and education were hired to work one-on-one to help people with “invisible disabilities” better navigate the job search, make meaningful connections to employers, and provide soft skills training to help them understand office professionalism and workplace etiquette.

After four years of success, United Way of Southwestern PA asked JFCS Career Development Center to take the program to scale and create more avenues to disability inclusion in the workplace. One avenue of expansion came in 2017 by establishing partnerships with Duquesne and Point Park Universities. These collaborative efforts focus on developing strong relationships between the career services office and the disability resource center.

“Working with Point Park University and Duquesne University, we have been able to take our program that focuses on helping young adults with mental health challenges and autism and build on the university’s strong programming that already exists.” Said Erin Barr, one of the career counselors at JFCS Career Development Center. “It is evident that both these schools care about their students and their students’ success.”

Both universities have embraced the program and worked diligently to create an atmosphere where JFCS Career Development Center and the administration, staff, and students feel like they can use the program to foster greater student success.

Kaitlyn Myers-Brooks, also a JFCS staff Career Counselor, added, “We are learning that professors and staff recognize the need for further training. There has been a very positive reception of the on-site case consultation and group training that we provide.”

“As the program expands and changes, we still feel it is most important to focus on the individual and their goals,” says Welch. “Clients who come to us from Duquesne University, Point Park University or any other avenue will always receive the same level of compassionate service. Our goal is to see people secure meaningful jobs that they can retain long term.”

JFCS Career Development Center also works to connect job seekers to employers through career fairs. On October 30th, JFCS Career Development Center will host the 2nd annual Career Transitions Fair in partnership with United Way’s 21andAble initiative.

“The career transitions fair is a great opportunity for clients dealing with invisible disabilities or mental health challenges,” said JFCS Career Development Center Career Counselor Chris Rippee. “The stress around disclosure can be significant, as many clients fear that doing so might negatively impact their chances of getting a job. This is a fair where the recruiters are already aware that the candidates are dealing with invisible disabilities and actively interested in recruiting them. The immediate stress reduction and warm reception is hugely beneficial to our clients.”

If you are interested in services or participating in the Career Transitions career fair, please call JFCS Career Development Center at 412-422-5627.