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Interview with Anita Zimmerman, Employment Expert on Long Island, NY

by Leonor Coello

Anita Zimmerman is the Manager of Employment Services at the National Center for Disability Services/Abilities, Inc. in Long Island.

LC: Anita, please describe your program and how you place people with disabilities in jobs.

AZ: We assist people with disabilities in securing employment with the support of State and Federal grants. From our Project with Industry Grants referrals are coming mostly from the New York State and Vocational Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities (VESID). Some people find us themselves on our website. Our goal is to find them employment based on what they want, not what we think they should do. We take into account geographic location, transportation, salary, and anything that you or I would take into account when looking for a job. We are not like a sheltered workshop where everybody is placed into one particular job. It's really very individualized placement service depending on the person.

LC: What is the percentage of Latinos with disabilities that you have placed in jobs?

AZ: In general, the Latino population has been increasing in Long Island and as a result we are pursuing efforts in reaching out to them. We translated some of our materials into Spanish and conducted a one-day Latino Outreach program at the Center in April 2003. We are making our programs known to the Hispanic organizations and have also hired several Spanish-speaking staff.

While we did not conduct a specific analysis as to the percentage of Latinos who pursued jobs with our assistance, I would venture to say that it is about 30-35%; twice as much as the general Latino population represents in our community.

LC: How do consumers find out about your services?

AZ: Mostly by word of mouth, through our State Vocational Rehabilitation System, on the website, at the local One Stop Centers, the Department of Social Services, through their local Independent Living Center.

LC: What kinds of jobs do you place applicants in?

AZ: A wide range...everything from sales representative and maintenance jobs to executive and management positions. We will help to find the right job for candidates based on their abilities.

LC: How do you convince companies to make adjustments or accommodations for people with disabilities?

AZ: It is necessary to develop a relationship with each company. I let them know that I work with people with disabilities and that some need accommodations and some don't. Recently there was a company that called me. They were thinking of hiring somebody who was Deaf. It was somebody who applied on his own. They were very nervous about whether to ask him if he needed a sign language interpreter. I sent them information on how to interview and work with someone who is Deaf. This was not one of our clients but the fact that information we provided helped them decide to hire this person also helped us build a relationship with the company. It's all about trust.

LC: Let's say that a person with a disability who is tired of only getting very low paying jobs wants to get training and try to get a better paying job. Would the Center provide the training?

AZ: Sure, we have training programs to assist people pursuing new and marketable skills.

LC: Do they go through the training in the Center first and then they're placed?

AZ: Clients who participate in training before graduation are referred to the Placement Department for further skill development. The training includes resume preparation, learning how to do a job search, mock interviewing, and other job-seeking enhancement.

LC: When they're very young do you work with the family or with the individual?

AZ. We work with the job-seekers themselves. If they bring a family member with them to our initial intake interview, we will certainly allow them to participate and provide input. We are looking to serve the employment needs of our consumers the best we can. If family involvement will enhance this process and our consumer supports it, we welcome it.

LC: If a client told you that in his country he had a high position in a firm and that he would like to work in the same field here, but he does not speak English. What would you do under those circumstances to help him achieve this?

AZ: We are in a good position in New York to help individuals find positions without fluency in English because of the demographic diversity of our communities. We would refer this individual to classes for English literacy, and at the same time we would begin looking for positions where his prior work experience and his native language would be assets.

LC: If the only thing standing between them and the job is the language?

AZ: We would encourage him/her to take classes in workplace literacy.

LC: What would you say to people with disabilities to get them to take advantage of your services?

AZ: I would highlight our many businesses connections and emphasize our individualized services and support. I also might provide a list of recent jobs and salaries that our consumers obtained with our assistance.

LC: We know that there are many unemployed Latinos with disabilities who are not aware of what services are out there for them. How can Proyecto Visión help enhance your program?

AZ: I think this interview itself will be helpful, keeping in contact and sharing updates on programs and services between our organizations, would also be good. Thank you.