Overcoming obstacles to employment opportunities

May 6, 2019

A U.S. Census Bureau analysis released in March found that the median earnings for workers with disabilities were about the same as for other workers.

Still, people with disabilities make up only about 6 percent of working adults and are less likely to earn a full-time wage, according to the survey.

More than half of working-age adults with a disability reported in the survey they had a health condition that was an impediment for the kinds of work they could perform or the number of hours they could work. Finding jobs that fit their needs can be difficult.

When Brian Bard left a hospital after a spinal cord injury, he didn’t know if he would work again. He was paralyzed from the shoulders down.

After earning his bachelor’s degree, he participated in a campus workforce recruitment program. But it took a few years for him to find work. Eventually, he was accepted into a paid internship program at an Army research facility in New Hampshire and another at the White Sands Missile Range.

Eventually, using Schedule A, a special hiring application for federal employment for people with disabilities, he was hired as a military intelligence specialist with the U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla.

Twenty years later, Bard is a program specialist with the Administration for Community Living, small federal agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

He starts the day at 2 a.m., he said. “That may seem crazy, but I have to get up this early so my wife can help me get dressed and out the door by 3 a.m.”

Thankfully, he said, his bosses approved his request, through the Americans with Disability Act, to start work at 5 a.m. “Getting stuck in traffic could be life threatening with my level of disability,” Bard added.

Besides relying on his wife for personal assistance — “My wife has a full time job helping me to be employed,” Bard said — he requires reliable transportation.

This year, he will need to replace his $50,000 van. Modifications to a new vehicle are estimated at $80,000, he said.

He hopes the costs will be covered by the Maryland Division of Rehabilitation Services.

Bard and his wife have raised two daughters at their home in Delaware, a 100-mile drive to Washington, D.C.

“It has been worth the struggle,” Bard said, “but I don’t think we could have done this on Social Security income.”

It wasn’t easy for Tim Carver of Aztec, either.

Carver had both of his legs amputated above the knee due to renal failure and received a kidney transplant at age 25.

After studying finance in college, Carver was hired as the chief financial officer for the San Juan Center for Independence, a nonresidential nonprofit agency in Farmington.

Over the past 25 years, Carver had been responsible for a lot of the center’s success, including a home health agency with consumer-directed personal care services, low-interest loan programs, a last-resort fund, and a newly opened accessible garden and orchard.

Like any successful small business, the center required a lot of extra work hours. According to his co-workers, Carver was always willing to put in the extra time regardless of his physical problems.

Recently, he had learned that his transplanted kidney was failing and that he would need another transplant.

He kept working, but April 22, at age 56, Carver passed away.

“The thought of moving ahead without Tim is so hard,” said Larry McCabe, who directs the center’s Access Loan New Mexico. But, McCabe continued, “He would be the first to say, ‘Let’s get to work.’ ”

Andy Winnegar has spent his career in rehabilitation and is based in Santa Fe as a training associate for the Southwest ADA Center. He can be reached at a@winnegar.com.