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Disability Institute Works To Overcome Hiring, Cultural Obstacles

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People with disabilities can and are making significant contributions to the St. Louis workforce, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement.

“Forty percent of the working-age population are unemployed or don’t have jobs,” said David Newburger, co-director of the Starkloff Disability Institute. “Eighty percent of the disabled population, working-age, do not have jobs.”

The Starkloff Disability Institute, a local nonprofit, is working to change societal attitudes about those with disabilities through its Next Big Step employment initiative.

“It is the next step after we have people with disabilities graduate from college and want to get into the job force,” said Tina Vinson, employment specialist for Starkloff’s Next Big Step. “It is, in a very simple term, a job readiness program. But that term does not do it justice — it is so much more. We help our candidates become the most polished, professional job seeker(s) possible through our curriculum.”  

That curriculum includes courses and one-on-one training. It helps job candidates “own their disability, know their disability, become self-confident so that when they go into an interview they can put that employer at ease,” Vinson said.

And it has been successful: “More than 80 percent of the people we’ve worked with have found jobs,” Newburger said. “Our goal is to make people be hired, retained and promoted.”

Andrew Sartorius is a recent Next Big Step graduate. The 27-year-old is now working as a public defender in Cole County. Helping put others at ease with his disability has made a difference, he said.

“The more I’m willing to say ‘Sure, ask those questions, let me give you those answers,’ the easier it is for people to ask them and the better everybody can get along,” Sartorius said.

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“St. Louis on the Air” discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.

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