By Ashley Thompson, Employment Specialist

Every time I have a job development meeting with the young man who began participating in Supported Employment Services this month, I have a hard time understanding why he isn’t already employed. Sitting in front of me is a bright young man with determination, a strong work ethic, a desire to help people, an optimistic and positive outlook and a great sense of humor. He’s a high school graduate, swim team competitor, former prom king, church volunteer, Taekwondo senior green belt holder and health enthusiast.

But unfortunately, he has been unemployed since graduating from high school over two years ago. He, with assistance from his incredibly supportive family, has been participating in job-search and job-readiness activities since he was 15. After graduating from high school, he spent a year working with local agencies completing assessments and searching for jobs, but without success.

Frustrated with the job-market and support services available, his family decided to move to Virginia in the hopes that there would be more opportunities and supports available. This month, this motivated job seeker began participating in job development through the Supported Employment Program at LFSVA.

The young man I’m working with and his family understand firsthand the many obstacles people with disabilities face as they search for a meaningful job. They feel that employers often don’t look past the label of the disability in order to see the many abilities and skills that the job-seeker has. They worry that employers may have misconceptions about the symptoms and abilities of the person with the disability.

They also see the difficulty people with disabilities face while attempting to complete the required application and screening processes, which often include creating an account and applying online, creating and submitting a cover letter and resume, completing pre-employment assessments and meeting minimum qualifications and work experience requirements: tasks that many people with significant disabilities find nearly impossible to complete without support. They know that if he could get past the red-tape of the application and screening processes and get his foot in the door, he would have the opportunity to let his personality and abilities shine.

We’re striving to help break down the obstacles this job applicant and other people with disabilities often face. We assist with navigating the sometimes complex application processes and we also serve as an advocate and representative for job-seekers with disabilities. Our goal is to help local employers look past the application, the disability and the limited paid work experience and focus on the abundant potential and skill set of the applicant. We also offer employers education and support through Disabilities Awareness training, job-coach services and assistance creating workplace and interview accommodations.

After more than two years of disappointment, many job-seekers would give up on their dreams of employment. Not the gentleman I’m working with. He maintains his enthusiasm, optimism and determination to find and retain a meaningful job. He stays focused on his goal of finding a job with purpose and knows that his hard work will eventually pay off. “Perseverance” is only one of many positive qualities this job-seeker holds that will one day benefit the employer who decides to give this young man a life-changing opportunity.

Are you someone who could help this job-seeker and others meet their employment goals? If you are or know a hiring manager at a Roanoke area business and would like to hear more about the many benefits of hiring people with disabilities, please reach out to me at athompson@lfsva.org. This particular young man is searching for a stocking or customer assistance position in Roanoke city, preferably at a home improvement or sporting goods store.