The Arc Jacksonville, which serves adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and JAX Chamber launched an online resource Tuesday to connect people with disabilities to potential employers.
The new website, employmefirst.org, provides a place for such individuals or their job coaches to list their skills and interests. Also, employers who want a diverse workforce can post their job openings and skill requirements in the same place.
Job seekers and employers can view each other’s postings and find matches, officials said at a news conference at the chamber.
“Forty years ago when I started in this business … people with disabilities really didn’t have any opportunities. Employment wasn’t even talked about,” said Jim Whittaker, president and CEO of The Arc Jacksonville. “They want the same things you and I want — a good job, a good home, good friends — but most of these things come after you get a good job.”
A city Public Service grant funded EmployMeFirst for the first year, he said, and the endorsement of the 3,000-member chamber will give it momentum in the community. Whittaker said he hopes for 100 posted job openings, 20 placements through Arc Jacksonville and other placements through other agencies.
“Together Jacksonville can be one of the first cities to really promote … employers hiring people with disabilities,” he said.
John Delaney, who is JAX Chamber chairman and president of the University of North Florida, said the initiative “says an awful lot about our community.”
“The website is a step forward to help employers and employees find the right match,” he said. “Many local businesses and organizations have committed to hiring employees with disabilities and found some of their most hard-working, beloved employees.”
Also attending the news conference were representatives of three such businesses that have hired people with disabilities.
Florida Blue not only hires people with disabilities but consults with them about “our approach with customers” who have disabilities, said Olesea Azadedo, Florida Blue vice president of organizational effectiveness.
Megan Mauney, who is vision-impaired and has a service dog, works for Florida Blue as an accessibility consultant. She said she benefitted from a program for the disabled while at Delaney’s UNF, later worked for Baptist Health and now has a master’s degree in disability services.
“It has come full circle for me,” she said. Her life is an example of “the return in that kind of investment” in people with disabilities, she said.
Kelsey Adams, who has Down syndrome, proved so adept at her three-month document scanner stint at W&O Supply, a marine equipment supplier, that the company created a new permanent position to keep her on the payroll.
“I snatched her up,” said Brenda Britt, credit and collections director. “She was 100 percent accurate every single time. … We just love having her on board and seeing what she can accomplish.”
Jason Hamilton, who also has Down syndrome, is a mail clerk at EverBank. Curt Cunkle, the company’s North Florida Banking president, said employees like Hamilton help the company build a diverse workforce and “appreciate different perspectives, backgrounds and points of view.”
Also, the outgoing Hamilton, 36, has multiple skills. He has hosted a fundraiser for Arc and came up with the “most famous” way to ask donors for support, Cunkle said.
“Show me the money,” Hamilton said at the news conference, making the infamous “show me the money gesture” to a round of applause.
Beth Reese Cravey: (904) 359-4109
For more information contact Susan Hamilton, vice president for employment, or Bonnie Barnes, business relationship specialist, at The Arc Jacksonville’s office: 1050 N. Davis St., Jacksonville FL 32209; (904) 355-0155; firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com; or go to employmefirst.org.
BY THE NUMBERS
■ Less than 30 percent of Americans with disabilities are in the workforce, according to a 2014 U.S. Senate committee report.
Twice as many people with disabilities live in poverty than the rest of the population, according to the same Senate report.
■ About 11 percent, or 62,987, of Duval County residents age 18 to 64 have a disability, compared to about 10 percent of the state and national population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.