News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

October 16, 2013

National Disability Employment Awareness Month, October: Empowering People

Creating jobs for those with disabilities

TERRE HAUTE — Like any other day at work, Vincent Pfister opened his locker on Tuesday, put on his sweatshirt, a protective overcoat, glasses and gloves to begin his job of sorting plastic.

Pfister, 50, has worked at the Indiana State University Recycling Center since 2006. There, he works on a sorting line, separating glass or other materials from plastic for recycling. He mans a conveyor belt, stopping it to sort items and drain fluids from plastic bottles.

“I like all of it, it is good,” he said of his work. “Get things done.”

It’s a task well-suited to Pfister, who has Down syndrome and is hearing impaired.

Pfister is an employee who illustrates National Disability Employment Awareness Month, October. The observance is aimed at making employers aware of a diverse workforce that can help their businesses.

People with disabilities account for 19.8 percent of the U.S. population and command $220 billion in spending power, twice the amount of the teen market, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Pfister works daily from 9 a.m. to noon at ISU, then goes to Mosaic for a day program at its office at 2901 Professional Lane in Terre Haute until 3 p.m. Mosaic operates group homes, homes and apartments to service adults with intellectual disabilities.

Pfister lives in a Mosaic group home. At Mosiac’s day program, Pfister set up recycling bins. “He monitors those bins. He has the paper separated and the cans and bottles. He will clean out the bins and brings that back to ISU’s recycling center,” said Brenda Tyron, community relations manager for Mosaic.

Mosaic ensures that Pfister gets to work on time and is wearing appropriate clothing, Tyron said.

Cheri K. Lewis, ISU’s senior custodial services supervisor, said Pfister will shake a visitor’s hand when he’s not working in the recycling center. “He is a joy to be around,” Lewis said.

“He is a vital part of our family. He is an excellent ambassador for us and he is proud of what he does. So many don’t think to look past the handicap part and see what is truly in his heart,” Lewis said. “I can’t imagine him not being here.”

Elizabeth Attebery, supervisor of ISU’s recycling center, said Pfister “knows what his job is and is very conscious of that. He is very dependable. We’re blessed as a community because ISU has programs, like recycling, were we can utilize these individuals,” Attebery said.

“He is part of our team and never complains about anything,” Attebery said.

ISU employs eight full-time staff in the recycling center, along with seven special needs employees, Attebery said.

In addition, ISU’s Blumberg Center is part of the Indiana Business Leadership Network of the Wabash Valley, which works to encourage local employers to hire persons with disabilities. While the center does not directly assist workers with getting jobs, “we help provide training and awareness sessions for employers so they know that people with disabilities are very good employees. Absenteeism is almost nil, and any accommodations that employers would have to make is usually very low,” said Marlene Lu, project assistant for the Blumberg Center.

About 72 percent of employees with disabilities do not require accommodations, but for those who do, the  costs on average are $300 to $600, according to U.S. Department of Labor.

Research shows employees with disabilities have equal or better safety records, turnover and absentee rates, job performance ratings, job assignment flexibility and equal amount of supervision compared with workers without disabilities, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

One in 62 Americans is living with an intellectual or developmental disability, but is willing and able to work.

Tyron said Mosaic partners with job coaches and local businesses to find positions that are of mutual benefit. In addition to ISU, workers have been placed at Baesler’s, Goodwill Industries, McDonald’s, Cracker Barrel and Fazolli’s, along with other seasonal positions.

Tyron said Mosaic helps employees such as Pfister works toward goals. For example, Pfister saves money to take annual trips with his sister or other family members. Pfister is planning a trip to California next year. “Working and having the opportunity to work allows him to go to all these places and visit with family. In addition, he purchases birthday gifts or cards for his nieces and nephews,” Tyron said. “This really helps improve his quality of life.”

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com.

What to know

• People with disabilities account for 19.8 percent of the U.S. population and command $220

billion in spending power, twice the amount of the teen market, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

• One in 62 Americans is living with an intellectual or developmental disability, but is willing and able to work.

 

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