Futuros, Inc.: 25 Years Employing People with Disabilities in Puerto Rico
by Eric O. Jackson-Rivera, San Juan, Puerto Rico
A Vocational Rehabilitation consumer working at the Walgreens Distribution Center in Carolina.
A photo of theDJ Manufacturing facility in Corozal.
A meeting of consumers, employers, and directors on Disability Mentoring Day 2007 at the Puerto Rico Museum of Art.
Futuros, Inc. (also known as the Private Industry-Vocational Rehabilitation Consortium for Employment of the Citizen with Disabilities) is a Puerto Rican nonprofit organization founded in 1984 with the mission to promote and provide employment opportunities to qualified individuals with disabilities. To that effect, Futuros closely collaborates with various employment initiatives on a diverse spectrum of fields to place qualified disabled people in suitable work environments in the public and private sectors. Futuros is specifically geared to integrate persons with disabilities into the workforce by providing to employers a referral network of disabled persons who are qualified to work. Futuros itself is comprised of representatives from the educational, banking, commercial, industrial, and the public sector, all in the mission to facilitate the employability of qualified people with disabilities.
Futuros participates in joint efforts to expand employment opportunities for people with disabilities, encourage their participation in the work environment, strengthen employment opportunities for them by creating awareness among employers, compile updated information about the employment market, make occupations accessible and adaptable to qualified persons with disabilities, and help them become economically independent through employment. For the last 25 years, Futuros has been directly responsible for finding employment for hundreds of qualified persons with disabilities, thus positively impacting Puerto Rico’s disability community and the community at large.
Olga Rivera, a native of Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, is the current president of Futuros. She graduated in 1987 from the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez Campus with a degree in Organizational Studies. She brings to Futuros over 22 years of work experience in the areas of services and human resources. In the pursuit of Futuros’s objectives, Ms. Rivera affirms that despite some notable successes, some obstacles remain to be overcome. “There are several challenges to finding employment for persons with disabilities,” she says. “Among them we can point out the formal academic training of the participants, especially in technical and more specialized areas. But one of the greatest challenges is the overall lack of awareness among employers in all sectors of the workforce that there are fully capable and qualified citizens with disabilities who can meet their human resources’ needs. There is a lack of awareness about where to find these resources and of the services and the supports that the Administration for Vocational Rehabilitation, in conjunction with Futuros, provides. There is a lack of awareness about the incentives that the government offers [to employers who hire qualified individuals with disabilities]. All of this lack of awareness brings about a fear, and even worse, prejudice, when thinking about recruiting people with disabilities.”
Despite these challenges, Ms. Rivera affirms that Futuros’s track record of helping individuals with disabilities get into the workforce shows many accomplishments. “In addition to organizing numerous educational workshops for employers and providing education to consumers,” Ms. Rivera informs, “every year, Futuros offers the Beca Futuros, Inc., an educational grant to a [disabled] consumer who has demonstrated outstanding academic achievement in order to motivate him or her to continue studying and achieve his or her professional goals. Also, annually, we hold a public forum for employers where we offer educational workshops, and we recognize… employers which have demonstrated outstanding actions in recruiting people with disabilities and their overall involvement with the needs of that population. We also hold an annual general assembly where the consortium’s board presents to all the Futuros members the work that has been done during that year. And we also, in conjunction with the Administration for Vocational Rehabilitation (AVR), work along with the American Association of People with Disabilities in organizing our local Disability Mentoring Day, which is an event that is very well liked by both consumers and employers alike.”
The pool of companies which form the consortium is diverse and includes Walgreens, RJ Reynolds, Santander Bank, Popular Bank, Medtronic P.R., Pfizer, Roche Diagnostics, Zimmer Manufacturing, Abbot Laboratories, Kelly Services, and Inter American University, to name just a few of the more than 100 companies in Puerto Rico which are partner members. Such a diversity of industries and companies providing employment opportunities to qualified persons with disabilities in a competitive market challenges the perception that people with disabilities can only work in certain low-paying, non-competitive positions. Ms. Rivera explains that “through education efforts and the support that the AVR provides, and through events like Disability Mentoring Day, I think we’ve seen some changes in that respect.”
Ever since the ADA—the world’s first comprehensive civil rights law for people with disabilities—was signed in 1990, people with disabilities continue to strive for a better standard of living in all aspects of society. Successful, well-paid employment is the goal of most people all across America and Puerto Rico, including people with disabilities. Well-paid employment continues to be one of the factors that help to guarantee, for many, their opportunity for happiness and enjoying a good quality of life. In fact, many people think that a job—or a business venture—that produces a respectable income for them and their families is what in the end will ensure that they will be respected members of society who can truly enjoy the freedom and good life to which everybody is entitled to. To learn more information about people with disabilities in Puerto Rico and Futuros, Inc., visit the consortium’s website at: http://www.futurosinc.org.