Access Living program provides work experience for people with disabilities

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Chicago's Access Living is one CIL that has staff associate positions for people with disabilities. (WLS)

Employment opportunities for people with disabilities continue to be in short supply.

One solution that is being promoted by Centers for Independent Living (CIL) is a temporary transitional employment program that gives them both work experience and a pay check.

Chicago's Access Living is one CIL that has staff associate positions for people with disabilities. Their program has been around for 30 years but it has expanded in the last four.

"When we got some extra money from the state from the stimulus initiative, it was like reinvestment funds to kind of have more staff associates be on site," said program coordinator Carrie Kaufman. "It's a bit of combination between job training and getting work experience, then we work on connecting people with employers."

Staff associates work 19 hours a week as part of a year-long program. To qualify, you have to be a person with a disability, but other factors are considered as well.

"We really look for people who are pretty much job-ready but also have room for growth," Kaufman said. "They also have pretty clear goals."

"People need to be working with the Department of Human Services with vocational rehab and you have to be graduated from high school," she said.

Once they complete their program, Access Living helps find them jobs.

"A couple of people are working for the Illinois Tollway at their call center," Kaufman said. "There are some people are working in healthcare and some people decide that they need to go back to school."

Sometimes they even get permanent jobs at Access Living. Valerie Hines is one of them.

"I got hired full time and then decided to go part time," Hines said.

"I facilitate groups in nursing homes all over Chicago and the suburbs of Chicago," Hines said. "I do a group each week for 11 weeks, different sessions teaching them about independent skills, how to survive in a nursing home and outside of a nursing home. I love it."

"I would like to see it grow in other agencies other non-profits, maybe even other corporations, something like a trial internship period," Kaufman said.

Access Living currently has six people in the program. To learn more, visit www.accessliving.org.
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careersdisabilitydisability issuesChicago - River North
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