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The COVID-19 pandemic adds to employment challenges for the disability community

Jeiri Flores, an advocacy specialist with the Strong Center for Developmental Disabilities.
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Jeiri Flores, an advocacy specialist with the Strong Center for Developmental Disabilities.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a big impact on the American workforce, to say the least. It has presented a lot of challenges, along with some opportunities related to how people work.

Advocates for people with disabilities say there have been changes that concern individuals who already have specific challenges when it comes to employment.

Jeiri Flores is an individual with disabilities. She is also an advocacy specialist with theStrong Center for Developmental Disabilities.

The shift to remote work for a lot of people during the pandemic has generally worked for Flores, because of her access to technology and the kind of work she does.

But she said that it’s not the same story for many others who have disabilities.

“Having an entry level position doesn’t necessarily mean you can do work from home,” said Flores. “Not everyone works at an office, not everyone is doing clerical work. (Many people with disabilities) need to be in a place where (they are) serving folks, or washing dishes…entry level positions.”

Nate Zelesnikar is director of programs and services atHoly Childhoodschool in Henrietta which provides both academic and vocational programs for people with disabilities.

Holy Childhood/Facebook

He said that among the challenges the pandemic has created for their clients who are getting vocational and other job related support, is getting transportation for them to Holy Childhood and other job sites.

But when they can work out transportation or technology issues, Zelesnikar said there is opportunity for the people that Holy Childhood is working to help find employment.

“There’s a lot of jobs out there, and people are hiring, so that’s actually good for our population because it is providing more opportunities for people who might not have had it, one or two years ago,” said Zelesnikar.

Flores, the advocacy specialist at URMC, said that one concern she has is that when people with disabilities lose their jobs, due to factors related to the pandemic, it can be tougher for them to get back into the workforce.

“As long as the jobs continue to be available to work from home and be remote, that’s a blessing,” said Flores. But if they ever do kind of disappear and we try to shift back to having to be in-person, I think that’s where things get complicated again.”

This story is reported from WXXI’s Inclusion Desk and is part of Dialogue on Disability Week -- a partnership between WXXI and Al Sigl Community of Agencies -- in conjunction with the Herman and Margaret Schwartz Community Series.

Randy Gorbman is WXXI's director of news and public affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.