Niagara Gazette — A local retail outlet offered a unique form of on-the-job training on Monday.
The Sam's Club store located on Porter Road in Niagara Falls joined Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara in recognizing October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month by allowing a group of individuals with intellectual and other developmental disabilities shadow employees in the store's cafe, produce department, cashier stations and sales floor.
The event helped individuals participating in Opportunities Unlimited vocational training programs learn about job duties and responsibilities and the type of educational and work experience needed to apply for positions at Sam's Club and other area businesses.
"Stereotypes and attitudes about what people can and cannot do are the major challenges to productive employment of qualified people with disabilities," said Connie S. Brown, executive director at Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara. "What people with disabilities can do is be productive if only provided an opportunity."
National Disability Employment Awareness Month is a national campaign aimed at educating Americans about disability employment issues and celebrating the many and varied contributions of the country's workers with disabilities. This year's them is "A Strong Workforce is an Inclusive Workforce: What Can You Do?"
"Put simply, work is fundamental to identity," said Kathy Martinez, assistant secretary for the Office of Disability Employment Policy. "It means so much more than a paycheck; it offers purpose and the opportunity to lead a more independent, self-directed life for all people - including millions of AMericans with disabilities."
For nearly 60 years, Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara, a United Way agency and Niagara County Chapter of NYSARC, has been providing support services to people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities.
During a ceremony recognizing Disability Mentoring Day on Monday at Sam's Club, Brown said graduating to community based employment is the goal of the agency's training programs and October is a great time to educate the local business community about the social and financial benefits of employing people with disabilities. She noted that the national average of unemployment is currently 13.5 percent and thanked Sam's Club, the air reserve station as well as numerous restaurants, hotels, supermarkets and small businesses in the Niagara Falls area for doing their part to help individuals with disabilities find work. Through area employers, nearly 300 people in the workforce thanks to support from Opportunities Unlimited are receiving paychecks each week and spending their money in the local economy, agency officials said.
"By allowing us to be your business resource, you put people to work and truly change lives on a daily basis," she said. "Thank you for helping us to provide wages and a resource toward personal independence for our program participants."
For information about Opportunities Unlimited mentoring programs or services, contact the agency at 297-6400.