FULTON, NY – Despite the Americans with Disabilities Act, which took effect in 1990, some employers remain apprehensive about hiring a person with a disability. Betty Maute, Fulton Public Library director, is not one of them.
Still busy with the details of adjusting to a new job, she did not hesitate when the New York State Commission for the Blind and Visually Handicapped (CBVH) approached her last year about providing a work experience training (WET) opportunity for Mark McClave of Fulton, a blind client.
Work experience training lasts one to three months, with CBVH paying the client’s salary and the work site providing training and supervision. “When John Scott of CBVH approached me with this idea, I thought, ‘A blind person in a library?’ But, I believe in keeping an open mind,” Maute said. She learned about technology such as ZoomText, which enlarges text on a screen, and Pebble, a portable electronic magnifying device.
With these accommodations, McClave can check books in and out, shelve books, collect fines, make copies, send faxes, work at the library’s book sale, make signs and flyers, and keep up with paperwork. Maute said that McClave has a wonderful rapport with the library’s customers, getting to know them and recommending books. “I get pleasure from hearing people get fired up about books,” he said. McClave is working on renovating the young adult collection, studying which books are popular. “It blows my mind, what Mark can do.” Maute said.
The original plan called for McClave’s WET to end, and for the library to hire him, in March. However, city budget cuts derailed the hiring part of the plan, and CBVH extended his WET until May with the hope that the budget issues will be resolved by then. “This is heartbreaking, because everyone loves Mark. He is one of the best employees a director could ask for,” Maute said.
If McClave is hired, he would work as a part-time library aide and study for a Master of Library Science degree. He already has a bachelors degree in sociology from SUNY Oswego. Maute said that she has been encouraging McClave to get his masters since their first meeting. Her advice for other potential employers of people with disabilities? “Keep an open mind. You might see a skill you can utilize. Also, meet face-to-face before you make a decision. If I had just seen a resume, I probably wouldn’t have gone further,” she said.
Maute has special praise for CBVH’s WET program: “It’s a way to give a start to someone. It’s low risk for the employer; we don’t have to pay while we assess the person’s strengths and skills.”
Lise Mayo is placement coordinator for Blind Employment Services at AURORA of CNY, Inc. a nonprofit that administers the WET program for CBVH and often makes the initial match between client and employer. “Our goal is to find a good fit between the capabilities of the person and what the employer wants. We have access to exciting technology that enables people to do things that were impossible before,” she said.
Mayo said she sees employers becoming more receptive to learning about ways to make people with disabilities part of their workforce. “Co-workers benefit too when there is true diversity in the workplace,” she said.
As for her own part in the process, Mayo, who has a masters degree in rehabilitation counseling from Syracuse University, said, “It is such a rewarding career, to have the opportunity to see people experience success. I don’t know how many people see that in their lifetimes. It’s kind of a high when it all comes together and we open doors that might have been closed.”