LAKE PLACID — Annie Maher enjoys her independence. Twice a week, she takes public transportation to her job in downtown Lake Placid, where she works in the Van Heusen clothing store.
“I like to get to be with people,” said Maher, sitting in a favorite pre-work hangout, the Starbucks a few doors away on Main Street. She likes her co-workers, she likes getting a paycheck and she likes the clean, softly lit store with its rows of neatly folded and packaged men’s shirts. Originally from Staten Island, the 42-year-old Maher receives services from Citizen Advocates Inc., a services agency that, among the many other things it does, assists people with disabilities in finding and keeping jobs they enjoy.
Maher’s main job is unpacking the stacks of boxes that bring stock into the store. She’s been at Van Heusen for around four years, with some time off when she broke her ankle (not on the job). And although she enjoys what she does for now, she says she might want to do something different in the future.
Jessica Dibble, the Career Visions program manager, said one aspect of the program is combating stereotypes about people with disabilities.
“It used to be that people (with developmental disabilities) expected to work dishwashing, or at McDonald’s, but we tell people, you do not need to settle for that. We would have people come to us saying they wanted to do those jobs, and we’d ask, ‘Is that because you want it, or is it because that’s what you’ve been told your entire life?’ “
Dibble and her staff help people with all kinds of disabilities find their way into meaningful work. Their clients can be people who have worked their whole lives and have acquired a disability that changes their career prospects, or people with developmental disabilities or challenges to entry-level employment. Of the 80 people the agency is currently serving, 51 are employed. In the past six months, nine people have found employment through Career Visions. Between Malone and Lake Placid, 37 businesses benefit from Career Visions workers.
“We start with a discovery process to find out what people enjoy doing,” said Dibble. “We want to make sure people don’t keep switching jobs because they’re not in a job that’s a good fit.”
Career Visions offers monthly job readiness classes, as well as helping workers get through the paperwork attached to employment. They also constantly do outreach to employers.
At the state Department of Labor’s Career Center on Woodruff Street, Saranac Lake, an employee who would not give her name said workers with disabilities signed up with Career Visions have a much better chance of getting a job than normally abled job seekers on their own.
“Most of the time it’s a very positive experience for businesses,” said Dibble.
“We’re always going to have people where the job didn’t work out, but for the most part, employers have been very accepting.
“We have a bunch of different programs. We support people with interview skills, building a resume. We provide job coaching that covers everything from social skills to how to talk to your boss and ask for a raise. The job coaching is very personalized, very individualized. With Annie, she just faded down (the job coaching) because she’s doing so well.”
Thanks to supportive funding from New York state, Maher’s hourly rate is the same as that of co-workers with equivalent experience.