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Symposium highlights importance of hiring disabled people

By JR Ortega
Oct. 17, 2011 at 5:17 a.m.
Updated Oct. 19, 2011 at 5:19 a.m.

Joe Garcia has been working for Workforce Solutions in Victoria for about 24 years. Garcia became disabled after contracting polio when he was 2 years old, but is a productive member of the workforce despite his disability.

Joe Garcia lounges in his wheelchair, which is parked under his desk in an office overlooking downtown Victoria.

The bottom of the 56-year-old's khaki pants scrunch up, exposing the metallic braces he's had on his legs since his bout with polio when he was 2 years old.

But more crippling than the disease was the climbing struggle he had just trying to find a stable job.

Surviving polio

Garcia is a born-and-raised Port Lavaca resident who drives to his job at Workforce Solutions of the Golden Crescent every morning, five times a week. He has worked there for 24 years.

Garcia is at a comfortable place in his life with a job that works around his disability.

Fortunately, programs are in place, like the Disability Coalition's upcoming Employer Symposium, which looks at the latest issues concerning working with disabilities.

"There are employers out there willing to give a disabled person the opportunity," Garcia said. "If you get that opportunity, you need to make the best of it."

Garcia knows about not taking a job for granted. His first experience outside of college trying to find a job made him feel something that he had never felt before - disabled.

Garcia was about 21 years old at the time and had applied for a job as a building inspector for the city of Corpus Christi.

He didn't get the job and wondered why that was, so he went back and asked what he could do better next time.

"The gentleman who came out said it was because of my disability," Garcia said. "It was then that I realized that I was going to have a problem."

Garcia felt what the man did was illegal, but being only 21, he decided to just move along.

He later went into real estate sales and then, eventually, began working at Workforce Solutions. He's now one of their three accountants.

Surviving in the workplace

Garcia uses arm crutches to get around the office, but is also in a wheelchair.

The wheelchair was introduced recently after a stress fracture at the bottom of his foot.

Garcia is able to move around work with no problem and just feels like another guy in the office, he said.

"I know I have limitations, but they are all physical, not mental," he said. "You just got to get up and do it."

This is the mind-set people with disabilities should have, said Billy Blanchard, disability navigator for Workforce Solutions.

Blanchard helps organize and promote the symposium each year.

The symposium is entering its fifth year.

"It's to raise awareness about people with disabilities and give them some of the tools when hiring and employing people who have disabilities," he said.

The symposium will highlight any changes to the Americans with Disabilities Act and will address any questions and concerns by employers.

There also will be a job fair targeted for the disabled, he said.

Garcia admits it's hard enough looking for a job in the current economy and even harder when disabled.

Symposiums like this definitely help the awareness, he said.

"It's going to be tough," he said about looking for a job. "You just have to be persistent."

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