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AbilityLinks Featured Job Seeker – Alyx Koch

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Many of AbilityLinks’ candidates have a background in English and creative writing. To utilize the skills and passion they have with a pen or a keyboard, Alyx Koch has a strong background in social media, editing and marketing writing, as well as intangibles that make her a featured candidate for us.

Where and when did you start to develop an interest in writing and communications? 

I’ve been a storyteller by nature since I was five, but didn’t start to take writing itself very seriously until I was thirteen (I read a poem in front of my entire seventh grade class, and people kept telling me that I needed to have it published). I became interested in the communications aspect when I was a senior in college, during my second to last semester. I had originally thought I would work at a traditional publishing company, but at the urging of friends and colleagues, decided to see what social media and marketing was about. I’ve been fascinated by it ever since.  

How were you able to keep up with making your social media skills relevant?

A lot of it is paying attention; I keep up with the industry via email newsletters and Twitter accounts, and would adjust based on the trends I’d see emerging and fading. 

Tell us about your skills in content marketing.

I’m mostly on the creative side of things, specifically with editorial content calendars (social media posts), blog posts, press releases, website copy, etc. I love coming with ideas that address a top from a unique angle; not only does it pique the audience’s interest, but hopefully it gives them something to think about. I also enjoy partaking in conversation (engagement) on social media platforms. 

Where do you hope to be five years from now in your career?

If I’m not writing full-time by then, I’d like to be in a mid-level to senior level position, specifically when I can lead and mentor others. I know how difficult it is to get into marketing in itself, and I want to be able to offer guidance the way it was shown to me. .

How has AbilityLlinks helped your job search?

Admittedly this is the first time I’ve used AbilityLinks (when I first met Bill O’Connor I was in a difficult place in life and felt the need to be utterly stubborn at the time, but that’s a whole other story). What I hope to get out of it is to find a job where I can genuinely use my skills and talents, but to also go through the hiring process in a way that’s more humanizing then what I have experienced thus far. 

How easy or difficult is it to bring together diverse city and inclusion in to bridge connections between employee and employer?

With this question, are you asking about the level of ease/difficulty in terms of bringing employers and employees together for the sake of diversity and inclusion? If so, I think it ultimately depends on the situation and how both parties communicate with one another. If there’s an open line of communication, and the employee feels that he/she can be open about the challenges/limitations they face (along with how those things affect them in the workplace), then of course there’s opportunity for inclusion. 

Thanks Alyx! If you have interest in reaching Alyx or any other AbilityLinks featured candidates on our blog,  click here!

AbilityLinks Blog – Disability Employment

Hard Work Pays Off

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Hello everyone,

Morgan Amos 

I hope you all had a Merry Christmas and may your New Year’s be wonderful and blessed. This year has been filled with several opportunities, and with each one I’ve learned a lesson. The most important lesson I’ve learned is that hard work pays off. Back in September, I wrote a post posing the question: Are you the Reason Your Career is Stationary? Within the article I discussed several reasons why you might be the reason your career is stagnant. I also assured individuals of ways you can better your predicament.

  With each blog post I write, and with every piece of information I provide, I believe in applying what I’ve learned not only to my life but also to help someone in their job search. I understand that it can be frustrating and there are times where you will want to give up, but I urge you please don’t. Hard work pays off! I’ve been hitting the pavement applying for position after position with no luck, but I never lost faith and I knew that if I kept applying myself that something would happen.

 Recently, I had an interview scheduled with an insurance company. Everything went fine and I was told that by Friday or Monday I should hear back regarding a second interview. I received a call on Thursday stating that they wanted to offer me a field position. While it was nice to hear that they offered me a position, I was also disappointed. When working with an insurance company there is a likelihood that you could be working in the field, but there is also the possibility that you could be working in an office setting, but because of my disability, I am unable to work in the field. I was disappointment to know that the hiring manager could offer me that position knowing that when I came into the interview I was a wheelchair user.  

Nonetheless, I am thankful for the opportunity and the lesson I take away from this is I can go into an interview, give it my best, and know that I can accomplish what I set my mind to. The other lesson I take away from this experience goes back to the previous post I wrote, which is, even if you feel that you are underqualified or over qualified for a specific position, still apply. Yes, I got the second interview, but I declined moving forward because of the position they offered me. Regardless, I was willing to see this through.

For those of us out here seeking employment all hope is not lost. When in search of employment it’s important to keep a checklist handy so that going forward you will be prepared. Here are three pieces of information that are vital to your job success.

Research the Company

I know you’ve heard this before, but this is important. As you prepare yourself for the interview, make sure you’ve taken some time to find out about the company you possibly could be working for. This allows you the opportunity to see what they are about and will give you the chance to formulate some questions you may want to ask them during the end of your interview.

Dress for Success

Dressing for the position you want is just as important as having your resume and references together before the interview. How and what you choose to wear says a lot about who you are, and in some cases, can hinder your opportunity for landing your dream job. If possible, you want to have a nice pair of pants preferably in a neutral color, a nice shirt that doesn’t draw any unwanted attention, and some dress shoes.  Be confident in who you are, understanding of the position you want, and make sure that the outfit you choose highlights this.

How to end the Interview?

Sometimes, you may wonder what questions you should ask during the end of the interview or if you should ask any questions at all. Preparing at least two to three questions is a good way for you to show the hiring manager that you’ve done your research and know something about the company. Once the interview is complete it’s always good to follow up with a thank you email or letter depending on if the company says it’s ok to email them. This lets the hiring manager know that you appreciate the interview and look forward to the possible opportunity of speaking with them again.

Searching for employment is a job within itself, but hard work does pay off. Hopefully, my story can encourage individuals with and without disabilities to continue with whatever their goals are, and know that opportunities are out there waiting for us!

 

AbilityLinks Blog – Disability Issues

Featured Job Seeker – Orlando Herrera

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Last month at the ITKAN after-hours event I spoke to a member of the Marriott Foundation’s Bridges to Work. This is one of the best organizations in the country that helps students with disabilities make the transition from high school to the working world. Orlando Herrera was a great candidate to meet and learn more about. I asked him some questions about Bridges to Work, A+ certification and telling us about his passion for information technology.

1. How long have you had a passion for IT? What started that passion?

I have passion for IT many years ago, back when I was young. Many people that I communicate/network with always considered me as “Tech-savvy” due to me talking a lot about computers and other tech that are developed today. I started to have the passion of IT because of my older brother went to school for CIS (Computer Information System). After I saw his school assignments and notes, it brought to my attention about IT. I am currently a student at Richard J. Daley College that is majoring Computer Science.

 

2. What do you think the future is in store for IT?

The future of IT will be amazing and useful for everybody. After the latest ITKAN meeting, I saw a video about a research project for students to analyze data. A researcher was at the bottom of the ocean collecting data about kelp. Later on she sends all her collected data to other researching groups and can work simultaneously at different locations. The future will be a lot different, in a positive way, because technology is advancing day by day.

 

3. What has been your experiences with Bridges To Work? How about ITKAN?

I started to go to Bridges in August 2015 where I met all Bridges Employees and participants. Without Bridges, without Mrs. Kelly Pavich, and without Mrs. Shebtufi Kushma, I would not have this opportunity to have a job at Mariano’s fresh market, which I am a current employee for a year now, and a opportunity to go to ITKAN and jobshadowing Microsoft’s Director of Technology and Civic Innovation, Adam Hecktman. ITKAN is the best organization and I enjoy going every month. Hearing everybody’s ideas that would help those with disabilities and hearing out our opinions about the idea. I am very happy that I get to have a job and have time to go to ITKAN where I can meet wonderful people discussing ideas especially that can assist people with disabilities because tech at this moment is advancing daily and it really helps for others.

 

4. Do you think that building a computer is something that anyone can do?

Anyone can build a computer. At first it will be a tiny bit confusing at terms of connections from the front panel connections and PCI ports to the motherboard. As well as choosing which part will suite best for epidemic performances without any bottlenecking. For example, My PC, who I named Hades, can run at Ultra settings because I chose to purchased an Intel i5-6500 processor; as well as, a Radeon RX 480 GPU all powered by EVGA’s 750w 80+Gold power supply.

 

5. What are your 3 favorite websites and why?

Youtube.com – There has been many videos about anything that you are interested to watch; such as, tutorials on building a PC and programming/coding.

khanacademy.com – Teaches lessons about programming.

newegg.com – A website that sells PC hardware components for a reasonable price.

Thanks so much for your time Orlando!

AbilityLinks Blog – Disability Employment

The Pomodoro Technique: What It Is, and How It Can Help Your Productivity

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Lauren Bryant is a University of Illinois student who volunteered as an AbilityLinks blogger this summer. I was pleased to supervise Lauren and serve as her editor. Here is Lauren’s final blog post of the summer. – Bill O’Connor

In the interest of being completely honest with the readers of this blog, I’m going to make a confession: I have trouble focusing on work more often than not. I am a chronic multitasker: usually those other tasks are not work related.

I know of many disabilities where a lack of focus is one of the symptoms, and though it is not a symptom of my particular disability, it is something I struggle with. There is a technique out there, however, that I’ve found helpful when I’ve used it. That technique is called the Pomodoro Technique.

What is the Pomodoro Technique? According to its official website, the Pomodoro Technique is a unique method of time management that uses intervals of 25 minutes spent on a pre-determined task (say, writing a report, or working on coding a website) spent SOLELY on the task. 

 

If any distraction interrupts you, even an unrelated thought, write it down on paper, then immediately return to your task. When your 25 minutes is up, put a check mark on your paper and take short break; say, 5 minutes. Then come back and repeat. Every four Pomodoro intervals (or four check marks), you get a longer break; 20 to 30 minutes.

To many of you, this technique may seem a bit confusing. How on Earth could this help me be more productive? Well, the reasoning is simple: frequent breaks make it much easier to focus on your task, not procrastinate, and get more done. This is useful for everybody, since the human brain is only able to focus for fairly short periods of time.

According to one article, this period could be as short as five minutes! While these 25 minute chunks can seem long, the act of

 

recording your distractions can really help them from piling up and actually distracting you.

By allowing yourself to take occasional breaks, your brain can retain more information. This could mean you could bring up relevant information to your supervisor about departmental meetings.

 

Please remember that I am most certainly not a doctor. Your particular trouble focusing may be entirely due to your disability. If this is the case, the Pomodoro Technique may not work for you. You may find after using it, if you do not have focus issues due to your disability, that this method isn’t helpful. That’s perfectly okay. There are plenty of other productivity methods out there, but if you give the Pomodoro Technique a try, please leave a comment and tell me how you liked it!

AbilityLinks Blog – Disability Employment

What You Can Do When Disability Parking Placards Are Abused

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Bill Bogdan

One of the most important factors in quality of life for people with disabilities is the use of parking placards to assist with accessibility. Whether it is doing life’s tasks or enjoying recreational activities, the abuse of parking placards becomes a lesser quality of life for disabled people.

Although city and state governments are trying to stop placard abuse, there is enough blame to go around for people with disabilities because of taking advantage of the disabled parking system. 

Bill Bogdan, disability liaison for the state of Illinois (and a supporter of AbilityLinks) talks about the difference in states’ use of placards, the loss of revenue to city and states because of abuse of disabled parking and finding solutions to this complex problem.

Bill, the Chicago metropolitan area is known as one of the country’s most accessible cities. How does Chicago stand up against other urban areas in regards to disabled parking?

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White’s goal is to reduce the fraud and abuse of the Parking Program for Persons with Disabilities to ensure that people with disabilities have the access they deserve.  Illinois has enacted strict laws and penalties for those who abuse parking placards and disability license plates. Violators can face $ 600 fine and six-month driver’s license suspension of illegal use of a placard or disability license plates. Under a City of Chicago ordinance, two percent of the total number of on-street parking spaces must be reserved for on-street accessible parking spaces.

Businesses have to be offer spaces that are in close proximity to essential needs. Are they stepping up in planning and building disabled parking spaces?

Under Illinois law, accessible parking spaces must be placed on level pavement on the shortest accessible route to the accessible entrance. For more information on the requirements of accessible parking spaces, please visit the Illinois Attorney General’s website at www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov 

People commit placard abuse is most times just laziness. What can people do to report abuse?

People should never confront individuals they believe are abusing the Parking Program for Persons with Disabilities.  Remember not all disabilities are apparent.  If you witness abuse of the program, please contact your local police department or call 911 if the matter needs immediate assistance and report the abuse.  People can also complete the Parking Program for Persons with Disabilities Abuse Complaint Form on the Secretary of State’s website at www.cyberdriveillinois.com

The City of Chicago has lost a lot of money because of abuse by non-disabled citizens, but how does abuse occur within the disabled community?

Personal responsibility is very important.  People with disabilities play a huge role in preventing abuse of the Parking Program for Persons with Disabilities. Do not allow friends and/or family members to use your parking placard or disability license plates when you are not in the vehicle.  Illinois law requires the authorized holder of the placard or disability license plates to be present and enter or exit their vehicle when parked in an accessible parking space.

Many people with disabilities are veterans. Is there different views/exceptions for this demographic?

The Secretary of State’s Office issues disabled-veteran license plates for our veterans who have a service connected disability and meet the eligibility requirements. 

You have worked with AbilityLinks for many years, In your opinion, how has AbilityLinks made an impact?

One of the important keys to independence is having a job.  Historically, people with disabilities still face significant high rate of unemployment of over 70 percent.  AbilityLinks is an excellent and unique organization offering resources for both people with disabilities seeking employment and employers seeking to hire persons with disabilities in their workforce.  I am proud to be a member of AbilityLinks advisory committee.

AbilityLinks Blog – Disability Issues

How Blogging Built My Confidence – By Lauren Bryant

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I’ve tried to start a blog before. Sometimes I would receive a comment or two, but I’d usually lose interest quickly since I felt like nobody cared about what I was writing. I didn’t understand why; I was a teenager with a fairly rare genetic disorder talking about what my life was like. I knew many parents blogged about their lives raising children with disabilities, but I hadn’t encountered many from the perspective of the children themselves. Today, of course, I realize most of my writing was just hormonal teenage angst I probably could have just kept to myself!  During my transition year of high school, however, something changed. That something was my first internship.

I started working with AbilityLinks in 2013. AbilityLinks is an organization that helps people with disabilities find jobs. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I started; I didn’t know what they would possibly have me do! When I met my supervisor, he told me I’d be doing research on disability and disability employment topics, and then blogging about them. This was something entirely new to me; blogging based on research. As it turned out, I was good at it, and people seemed to really enjoy my writing! I never wanted my posts to be boring or just fact-based. While I did not inject my opinion (after all, this blog was career focused), I did try to present information in an interesting way that showcased my writing voice. 

This writing helped me in so many ways. One of the biggest was increasing my confidence in my own abilities as an author: here was tangible proof that people were reading what I had to say, and enjoying it. I’d need that confidence come 2015 as I prepared to apply for college…again. Yes, three years after graduating from high school, I was applying to college for the third time. The University of Illinois was my dream school, and had been since I was thirteen. The disability services they offer are above and beyond any school I had researched in high school. 

The first two times I applied led to rejections, and at times I wondered if I would ever be good enough to be accepted. When I asked why I had not gotten accepted the second time, I was informed I’d need to increase my ACT math sub score. I spent almost all of summer 2015 working on math in preparation to retake the ACT. I succeeded in raising my score that October, and I applied to U of I again that October. I’d have to wait four months until I found out…

February came, and I was absolutely ecstatic to learn I’d be an Illini attending U of I in the fall. At that time, it felt like August was ages away; as I write this, it’s August 9th, and I move in to my dorm in a week! I credit AbilityLinks for a big part in my success; working with them helped me gain the confidence in myself to never give up and keep trying to get into my dream school. The result is more amazing than I could ever have imagined.

AbilityLinks Blog – Disability Issues

When It Comes to People with Disabilities and Jobs, One Size Doesn’t Fit All

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Yesterday, I received an email from a professional colleague of mine. Attached to this email was a Forbes article that talked about the best jobs for people with disabilities. This raised a red flag for me.

Rather than talking about all jobs in the general labor market that are high growth and high pay, the article talked about jobs that best fit people with disabilities as a group. It assumed for example that people with disabilities can’t handle high stress or high physical demand positions.

The question I ask is, “Why not talk about all high growth, high pay jobs as options for people with disabilities? We are individuals, part of the general population and society as a whole.”

There are a few of positions that the article puts a velvet rope around and no matter how attractive a disabled candidate might be for these positions, the author (or job bouncer) eliminates the possibility of a disabled candidate performing them.

For example, the positions of flight attendant and chef are eliminated. This might be a relevant point of discussion for people with wheelchairs in the aisle of a 767, but a person with controlled epilepsy who is disabled could be a great flight attendant with excellent customer service skills.

As for eliminating the position of chef as an option for disabled individuals, there are many types of jobs in this field and many accommodations that are possible – just like there are all types of people with disabilities.

Read the article and leave your opinion below. 

AbilityLinks Blog – Disability Issues

The Seasonal Job: Good for your Wallet, Bad for Your Time

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The National Retail Federation, the world’s largest retail trade association and the voice of retail worldwide, estimates that the holiday shopping season accounts for about 20 percent of the industry’s annual sales. As a result, it’s clear why retailers want to ensure they’re properly staffed to handle holiday shoppers.

This year, retailers are expected to hire more than 800,000 seasonal employees nationwide – the largest seasonal hiring project since 1999 says consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas in a recent press release. According to the firm’s report, holiday hiring has continued to improve annually since 2008 which was one of the worst holiday hiring years on record. Last year for example, 786,200 workers were added for the 2013 holiday season. Now is the time to apply since many companies have a deadline for accepting seasonal applications. The bulk of hiring takes place throughout October though will continue through January.

Make sure to prioritize your applications – the sooner, the better! Also, don’t limit yourself to the big brands when it comes to seasonal employment. Smaller retailers and shops gain holiday momentum too.

Candidates hoping to take advantage of seasonal hiring should be prepared to look beyond the traditional retail store fronts. Some of the best opportunities could be in the backroom, handling incoming and outgoing shipments. Job seekers should also look for positions at warehouses and shipping facilities associated with retailers and/or transportation companies.

For more information, click here.

AbilityLinks Blog – Disability Issues

Stephen Hawking: The Theory of Everything

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Stephen Hawking, a brilliant physicist, researcher, iconic figure and person with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), has lived a remarkably rich, satisfying and productive life—against great odds. Recently, his story was made into a film, The Theory of Everything.

Mr. Hawking is English but you wouldn’t know it listening to his synthesized voice. He explains that voice synthesis was a new technology when he started using it. Now, he could choose a voice with an English accent but doesn’t want to.

He was diagnosed with ALS in his early 20s when attending Cambridge University for graduate studies. 

The disease attacks muscle cells causing inability to walk, talk, and use hands and arms, leaving one dependent on others for self-care. Brain function, sight, taste, tactile sensation, smell can all can remain intact.

Doctors gave him only two years to live. He’s defied that dire prognosis and describes himself as an optimist. Want an example? Shortly after being diagnosed, he got married and started having children. Currently in his early 70s, he continues to live his life, his way.

Here are some well know Stephen Hawking quotes that help may explain why he is still with us and living such a full life:

 

My goal is simple. It is a complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all.

 

My expectations were reduced to zero when I was 21 (and diagnosed with ALS). Everything since then has been a bonus.

 

The downside of my celebrity is that I cannot go anywhere in the world without being recognized. It is not enough for me to wear dark sunglasses and a wig. The wheelchair gives me away.

 

It is a waste of time to be angry about my disability. One has to get on with life and I haven’t done badly. People won’t have time for you if you are always angry or complaining.

 

But I think it would be a great mistake. However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. While there’s life, there is hope.

 

I don’t think the human race will survive the next thousand years, unless we spread into space. There are too many accidents that can befall life on a single planet. But I’m an optimist. We will reach out to the stars.

 

I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first…

These quotes were taken from Mr. Hawking’s Wikipedia page The Theory of Everything was recently nominated for an Academy Award and is still in theatres. It’s worth seeing. 

AbilityLinks Blog – Disability Issues

Facing Rejection in Your Job Search? You Aren’t Alone. Use It to Your Advantage

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The process of looking for a new job takes time and effort. If the interview is a slam dunk, you may feel extremely optimistic and then never hear back from the company.

Why? Everyone knows that rejections occur because of competition, a proper fit for the company’s culture or the lack of professionalism during the interview, but there is no doubt that not hearing back from the hiring source is far and away the most infuriating part of a job search.

Looking at it from an employer’s perspective, there are quite a few reasons that you don’t get the final decision, of yes or no. First of all, I will reach back to talk about competition. During the great recession in 2008, there were so many job seekers that never hear from respective companies in regards to decisions because experienced candidates were at a 500 resumes for 1 position. Finding quality candidates is difficult. 

Second, companies must spend quite a bit of money to find a candidate, make an offer, bringing them through orientation and getting up to speed with their position; this is an investment of thousands of dollars on one new worker.

Finally, a company might be keeping their options open; sometimes the number one candidate just doesn’t work out and then number two or three is offered the position. They don’t want to shut the door on the other candidates or themselves.

So what does an active candidate do at the end of the final interview about the next step in the hiring process? You can ask the interviewer about time allotments for final decisions. If you still haven’t heard back, I believe that you should take a proactive step to ask through email or a direct phone call.

If the final answer is no, be gracious. Walking away from the situation is fine, but reaching out and sending an email/writing a nice note to the hiring manager will make a company wonder, “Was not hiring this candidate the right decision for myself and the company?  Was this the X factor that makes me believe  that?”  Also, take a break, whether that is an hour or a week, to recharge, keep fresh and focused. 

Rejection is a part of the job search, but you can ease the disappointment and be proactive for the next search through these steps.Hard work can be a true catalyst towards the job that is right for you. 

AbilityLinks Blog – Disability Employment