Changing Career Goals

Each week my co-workers and I here at Goodwill facilitate group discussions for Job Seekers with disabilities, highlighting a variety of work-related topics and job seeking skills in order to help individuals obtain employment. One topic that comes up a lot is changing career paths or job interests and having little to no experience in that field, or having the experience but being afraid to make the switch.

This is a problem that anybody can face, with or without a disability, and it can be very intimidating, especially during a hard economy or uncertain job market. My advice to people is always keep your options open and that it never hurts to try. Also be sure to use transferable skills, because the responsibilities you had in your last job can usually be related in some way to the job you want to go for. You just have to find the right way to put it on your resume.

This week, I wanted to share another success story of one of Goodwill’s Placement Program participants as given by her Employment Specialist, Anne Gulotta. Mary came to Goodwill looking for a change and with the right tools and motivation she was able to find it.

Mary had to change her career path from cake decorating to clerical due to physical limitation. She came to Goodwill seeking help finding a job and assistance with updating her computer and clerical skills. Through Goodwill’s Placement Program and Clerical Training Program, Mary learned the skills that she needed to be successful in her job search and to be a success in the clerical field. Mary said that she learned office skills, computer training, job seeking skills, resume writing skills and interviewing skills and that all of these helped her to secure a job through the U.S. Census Bureau.

Mary is working as a Field Representative for the U.S. Census Bureau. Mary enjoys doing this type of work and the flexibility that her work schedule allows.

Mary is happy to be doing survey work. She feels good about making extra money which in turn helps her pay her bills. Before coming to Goodwill, Mary had been out of work for several years and was at a crossroad in her career. Mary needed to seek out a different career path because she was unable to do the type of work that she had done in the past due to physical limitations. Mary said that the “training that I received in the clerical training and the skills in the Seeker Sessions and Placement Program has been extremely helpful.”

Disability Definitions Revised

Ever wonder what all the terms used to define different disabilities really mean? In my job as a placement specialist, working with people with disabilities, I come across a lot of different definitions for the various disabilities that people have. Some of them are obvious and self-explanatory; depression, for instance. Then there are ones like DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder). For many years this disability was known as multiple personality disorder. Even for someone working in the field it is sometimes a challenge to understand what all of the different definitions mean.

A revised edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, otherwise known as the DSM-5, was released last month by the American Psychiatric Association last month after extensive study and public comment. This revision changes the definition for many disabilities seen in schools and in the work environment. Although changes might not be seen right away, the new definitions which were 14 years in the making, require awareness for people living with disabilities for this may result in label changes, especially in school-aged individuals.

People may wonder why labels and definitions are necessary at all when it comes to describing different disabilities. The simplified answer: it offers a common language and a method to ensure that diagnoses of mental disorders are consistent for everyone. The revised manual offers new research in the mental health field and describes over 300 officially recognized disorders.

One of the significant changes to come about is the change to Autism. Previously Asperger’s was another type of disability, although it was associated with Autism. Now Asperger’s has been eliminated and Autism is only defined as one disability under “Autism Spectrum Disorder”.

In the revised manual there is now a new category called “social communication disorder”. This is used for people who may have difficulty with conversational skills but do not have restricted or repetitive behaviors associated with autism.

Though the new changes will not effect everyone with a disability, I think it is important for people to be aware of them. For more information on definitions and revisions of the mental health manual read the full article on this topic by Christina Samuels at

Success Story

This week I was able to visit one of my participants that recently was placed in one of our retail stores at work and catch her in action. One of the best aspects of my job, personally, is getting to see the impact having a job can have on someone that I have worked with. Here is a little bit of Amanda’s story:


Amanda participated in Goodwill’s Clerical Training and Retail Skills Programs in order to increase her job skills and market herself better to perspective employers. Before coming to Goodwill Amanda had never been employed before, other than in the summer as a babysitter for Rockford residents. To keep herself busy, Amanda has been involved and done volunteer but was looking for something more.

Through Goodwill’s programs, Amanda learned time management skills, interview and job retention skills, how to make a resume and cover letter, how to best present herself at job fairs and how to work in the retail industry. “I love working; I’ve never had a real job before, and working at Goodwill feels great,” said Amanda. “I get along with my co-workers, love interacting with the customers and feeling needed when I can answer their questions—working gives me a sense of independence I didn’t have before.”

Prior to working with Goodwill Amanda had difficulty getting to meetings on time, remembering when she had tasks to due and other responsibilities. She has been working on these skills on her own and with her job placement specialist, but having a job to go to gave her the motivation she needed to succeed.

“I’m able to interact with other peers, learn responsibility and manage my time better,” said Amanda. “Goodwill gave me the opportunity to work when others wouldn’t. My job is awesome and I couldn’t be happier to be working.”

People Overcoming Barriers

In past posts I have highlighted famous celebrities and well known figures that have disabilities as a point of inspiration and to illustrate that given the right amount of determination and knowledge people can do anything; with or without a disability. This week I found an article from a couple of years ago about a young woman with down syndrome who is just as inspiring as any celebrity with a disability and is a great role model for people going through difficult times or who simply need courage for whatever the case may be.

Bridgett Brown, from Darien IL, was the first student with Down Syndrome that was mainstreamed into a school district. She is also accredited for having started her own advocacy organization, Butterflies for Change. Bridgett is also interested in acting and had a small role in the movie LOL with Miley Cyrus; proving that with determination anything can happen.

In an article published by Grape-Nuts, Bridget had a question and answer session with an interviewer where she admitted to some of the biggest challenges that face a person with a disability and how to overcome them. Her answer: Hope.

Q. What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced?
A. My biggest challenge is learning to live a full life with a disability and being an advocate for myself and for others.

Q. What inspired you to take this challenge?
A. I was the first person included in my school starting in preschool all the way through high school. So from the beginning of my life, I have learned to be an advocate for people with disabilities and for myself. I started to advocate for the rights of people with disabilities when I went to Springfield in eighth grade and started to advocate for people to live in their community. This is a lifelong challenge because we have a long way to go in our state when it comes to including people with disabilities in their schools and communities. I continue to help people find their voice so they can share their hopes and dreams with the world.

Q. Did you succeed?
A. I think my job is to be a hope holder and encourage people to dwell in the possibilities. I have my own consulting organization called Butterflies for Change and I am a national Keynote Speaker. I work in the dental field and for PACE as a disability spokesperson. Yes, I did succeed at being included in my school, and I succeed when I work with individuals with disabilities and help them find their voice. I help people understand inclusion and welcome people with disabilities by opening their hearts, minds and doors for them. I think I have been successful sharing hope and encouraging others. I have lots of goals. I would like to go to college, continue my acting career and be in more movies, and grow my advocacy organization Butterflies for Change. I would like to train other people with disabilities to be public speakers. I would also like to write a book to help people with disabilities find their own voice. I am also here to help others. My saying is: HOPE GIVES US THE COURAGE TO TAKE A CHANCE ON OUR FUTURE.

Having a disability is part of everyday life for millions of people in America. What is important is learning to live with that disability and give hope to others who might be going through similar situations. That is why individuals like Bridgett are so inspirational.

Success Story

This week I want to highlight the success of one of my participants:


Laura came to Goodwill for placement services after working as an interpreter for a hospital for 18 years. She was laid off because times were changing and with the demands of new technology and the computer age. Laura found that she couldn’t keep up since she did not grow up with the knowledge and skills that many young people today do.

When Laura first came to Goodwill and started looking for a job she was taught how to navigate the internet, to increase her typing speed, the basics of working a computer, interview skills, how to apply for a job, how to handle difficult work situations and work readiness skills. Laura has always worked and dedicated her time to family and taking care of others. She quit school after the sixth grade to take care of her family and was concerned about finding another job.

“Goodwill lent me a shoulder when I needed one and was wonderful to me,” said Laura. “My spirits are up again. I was very depressed before and didn’t want to do even the smallest thing. Now I am ready for anything.”

Through Goodwill’s placement services program Laura was able to search for work and had her first job interview. With a lot of hard work and determination Laura found a job working as an interpreter and trainer at the Workforce Connection Center. She is also helping individuals with resumes and the computers in the lab, using the skills taught to her.

“Trust in Goodwill and they will be able to help you find your way. After loosing my job I thought I was going to go crazy; Goodwill is the reason I am working again. They helped me find my purpose.”

May is Disability Insurance Month

Disability Insurance Month Image

This week I am going to blog about something a little bit different and for a lot of people probably one of their least favorite topics, insurance. Now you may ask what does insurance have to do with my job as an Employment Specialist for people with disabilities, but when I was looking online this morning I discovered that May is Disability Insurance Awareness Month.

While it is true that I help people find work, I also help my participants once they are employed for the first 90 days. I have also been asked to help participants understand their employee benefits One of them that has come up a lot is disability insurance. This is not something that all employers offer their employees, but it is something important for everyone to think about and be aware of. Earning a living is many people’s motivation for working.

If that paycheck was taken away due to an unexpected illness or injury that prevented someone from working, it could cause a lot of hardship. That is where disability insurance comes in; think of it as ensuring your paycheck. It ensures that if you are unable to work, you will continue to receive an adjusted income.

Attaining disability insurance is not always a high priority for many workers, or even something that they think about when accepting a job. Many people assume that they are either covered through Social Security, state-mandated Workers’ Compensation or employer-provided group plans, or that nothing will ever happen so why worry about it.

This is not to say that everyone needs to plan for the worse. Be aware that life does happen and know what your benefits are and what is available to you.

Statistically, approximately 45% of people who apply for disability via Social Security are denied. For the people who are approved, they get an average benefit of $1,063 a month, which does not replace many employees’ income. Also keep in mind that worker’s compensation covers only work-related disabilities. According to the National Safety Council, 73 % of disabling events or illnesses are not work related.

So, what does all of this mean? Explore your options when you start to consider insurance and make sure that disability is included. If your employer offers disability cover, make sure to learn what that entails. Take this month as the opportunity to do your research and make sure you are aware of your benefits and what is available.

Learning Disabilities

For this week’s post I wanted to share this image from the National Center for Learning Disabilities. I found it while pursuing information for people with disabilities on pinterest, a great site for information, and I thought it had a lot of good information on it.


For more information on people with learning disabilities check out