Linda Butler is the Director of Employment Services at the Center for Independent Living. Her team works to provide a wide array of different types of services to ensure people with disabilities can find meaningful and sustainable employment. So much goes into a meaningful and independent life in terms of our ability to be employed. Linda discusses these services and why it is important that we focus on ensuring that people with disability are meaningfully employed.
Find your local Florida office of Vocational Rehabilitation: http://www.rehabworks.org/
SPEAKERS: Linda Butler, Tony Delisle
Tony Delisle 00:50
And welcome back to another episode of The Independent Life. And today we are going to be talking about the four letter word, work. Which is a beautiful thing. You’re setting the context for this conversation. I’m going to be talking today to Linda Butler, who’s the Director of the Center for Independent Living’s of North Central Florida’s Employment Services. And Linda has an extensive amount of experience in getting people with disabilities employed into meaningful and sustainable employment. This is one of I consider to be the central pillars for independent living. And it is so important for not just, you know, monetary reasons, but for so many others that I look forward to having discussions about. But one of the things that is going on right now is because of the COVID pandemic, and we’re recording this in December, jobs have been shed at a rate not seen in my lifetime. And since the Great Depression many say. And so this is an issue area work employment, that is always important, as is always relevant. But now more than ever, in this area, we’re facing so many different changes and dynamics that we’ve never seen before. And of course, as we’ve mentioned, another podcast crisis means that there’s opportunity as well. And so that’s also very exciting. And so while it is always challenging and important for Independent Living, to find employment for people with disabilities, it is particularly now during this time, that that importance is very underscored. And I think many people who perhaps don’t even have disabilities can really relate to the importance of, you know, finding, and sustaining employment. So I’m very excited to talk to you today, Linda, so you can share with us some of the wonderful things that you do and how you do it, and how people can get involved. But some would like to start with first, you know, asking you, you know, why is employment services so needed?
Linda Butler 02:54
Well, I think that people with disabilities in general face more challenges. They may be having gaps in work history, you know, they haven’t been able to work for a while. And employers really look at that negatively. So we have to overcome that somehow, people have been out of work for a while. Also, they don’t understand necessarily, these new online applications. This is not necessarily real new, but maybe new to them. And it’s complicated. It’s not like filling out a paper application anymore, and just submitting it. Online applications have assessments with them in so many different aspects, that if you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re faced with a big challenge. Other things like interviews, going into an interview, somebody who is deaf. I had somebody call me one day and said, I’m going to an interview today and the employer doesn’t want to hire an ASL interpreter. And that’s a big issue, you know, do we challenge that employer and that person then doesn’t get the job because the employer doesn’t want to be challenged? You know, what about somebody with a verbal issue, they go into an interview and the employer comes out going I don’t really know the skills because the person couldn’t convey it. It’s important for us to be there to help out in these situations to ensure that the employer understands the abilities that that person has and and the ability to perform those positions regardless of the fact that they may have a disability. And it’s more important now you know, we have COVID a lot of businesses are challenged themselves, you know, trying to keep up. So there are less and less opportunities out there. So it’s it’s more of a necessity right now I think to receive and get help to get through that process of gaining the employment and, of course, then there’s keeping the employment too. But you know, we’re here to, we’re here to help, we’re here to guide people to give them the tools to help them out, I think it’s something that is very useful, you know, to come to a program like this to succeed.
Tony Delisle 05:12
Absolutely. And you bring up so many good points in there. And that started out mentioning all the different aspects that are needed in order to acquire a job, you know, just finding the job, you know, applying for the job, interviewing for the job, there’s so much that goes into that, and that has evolved in short order over the last 10 years. And it’s changed certainly a lot since, you know, I was looking for work 30 something plus years ago, and how it was then to look for jobs and versus now and all the other things that can go into it and the nuances and, and your job is to find people’s jobs, and your you will get a lot. Yeah, yeah, to assist, I find that to be one of the most noble professions that I have come across. And I come from the background of teaching, which I have an immense respect for teachers in the area of public health, and people that try to promote healthier lives for people. I gotta tell you, the amount of respect that I have for yourself, and your staff and others who work to assist people in getting employment is up there with those professions in my regard, my respect. I remember when I, the times where I was looking for jobs, you know, I just thought to myself and looking for a job is a full time job. You know, when you have the amount of people with disabilities that you and your staff are working with, I mean, it is a lot of people that you’re trying to find sustainable employment for. That’s a heavy lift, that’s a big lift. And it’s an important lift, because people with disabilities have an unemployment rate that is consistently two to three times greater than the unemployment rate for people without disabilities, no matter how good the economy’s doing, it’s always two to three times greater. And before COVID, our unemployment rate for people with disabilities was around 7.5%, compared to 3.5% for people without disabilities, the unemployment rate now for the general population is around that 7%. And it’s double now around 15%, for people with disabilities, and my fear is is that that gap could widen. We’re trying to figure out ways of closing that gap. And certainly you are on the frontlines of doing that. Again, I just really respect the why, behind why you all are doing what you’re doing. It’s such valuable and important work.
Linda Butler 07:24
it’s important for people, you know, in general, people out of work, you know, their standard of living goes down. They lose social interaction, a lot of people identify themselves and their self-worth with the job that they hold. Now they don’t have it. Take somebody with a disability who already be isolated, or have low self esteem, and put into that same situation where they don’t have a job, I think it’s even more important for them to get help to be able to have gainful employment. And you were talking about COVID, and how that relates to what’s going on right now. Even how we interview right now, we’ve had to learn the art of Zoom interview, and help people because it’s different, even in this past year, how it’s developed in interviewing and different aspects. So it’s more necessary than ever to, you know, to get support and get that help.
Tony Delisle 08:24
It is those things change so quickly how the technology is changing the way that people get interviewed, because of the pandemic, you know, usually accommodations that are needed for these changes are usually lagging behind. So it’s great to have people like yourself who are so keen on what those accommodations might be as something that is rapidly getting disrupted and changing so quickly. Sometimes there’s accommodations for what is needed to make sure that everybody has access to the those changes, is lagging. And it’s great that you all on the front lines and can catch that and be working with people to make sure that they don’t get you know, left behind.
Linda Butler 08:58
Yeah, and we found that there have been some ups and downs through this past year. But overall, with our help, we’ve been able to help a lot of people in it, and it really hasn’t slowed down that much for us. We’re really happy that hasn’t happened and hopefully yet, we hope it doesn’t happen in the future, you know where it gets to that point, but we’re still doing pretty good at you know, reaching out there and getting people connected.
Tony Delisle 09:27
Well, that says a lot about the relationships you’ve had with our community well ahead of the pandemic. Yeah, having those relationships with employers and knowing the the areas in the fields and people that you’ve already placed in probably past time. So in working with our consumers, I’m sure has really helped during this time, you know, as well. One thing I want to go back to that you just mentioned is also people in their jobs, in their identity and kind of their self worth, you know, having something meaningful to do and social interactions. Again, going back to the why employment is so important. Certainly for paying rent, for food, for cost of living, or having the money, you know, just to get the bare necessities met, it is tied into our identity. When I meet someone for the first time, I’m often asked, “What do you do?” In most times their meaning work, you know, or school or whatever it is.
Linda Butler 10:24
Well that’s how we answer.
Tony Delisle 10:25
It is, right? It’s just so a part of like, our identity, you know, I’m not usually answering it saying, you know, I’m a father, or I’m a son, I’m an uncle. Yeah, you know, not answering necessarily that. And so as a society, and as a culture, it is something that we even identify others on in right or wrong, sometimes place value on those different types of professions. But it really does, I think, say something about our self esteem and our self worth, when we, you know, are contributing to an organization or a business, you’re usually it’s a mission of value that’s bigger than any one person not always feels good to have that kind of a purpose and direction. So…
Linda Butler 11:05
Yeah, I have a consumer who, you know, we’ve worked with for a while to apply for jobs to interview to, all the way through getting a job. And a lot of times she was just feeling down, like, Oh, I don’t know if I can do this anymore. This is this is just too much. But once she got that job, and what that job instilled in her, you know, that confidence, you just see just kind of a joy that I did it. And, you know, this is this is what I wanted to be doing. And now I’m here, you know, it is priceless, it’s, that’s what we want to see. We want to see somebody to the point where you know, they can overcome, you know, all of this doubt, you know, have something in their life, like everybody else does to give it meaning. That’s really great.
Tony Delisle 11:54
It’s wonderful when you can you kind of marry your work with your life’s purpose too, like, you’ve always had a dream of doing this in this field in this area, because it really fuels your fire, and you’re able to do it and you’re able to get paid to do something that you love to do. Yeah, that’s awesome. It’s really beautiful. Not many people can always say that, certainly working here at the center. And I can tell you really enjoy and love what you do. It is wonderful, it’s empowering. And then it bleeds over into other areas of your life, you’re a happier better person, it means you’re happier, better family member friend are more willing to help out others in need and, and to share some of some of that satisfaction that you have. And perhaps even like you said, gives confidence in one area. And then if I can do this, what else can I do? Right? And put yourself out there and try new things and hopefully lift others up as well. Yeah, that’s, that’s wonderful to see, you know how people with disabilities can really just benefit from employment. How do you see, you know, the other the other side of this coin is like you’ve been mentioning as employers, right? And so oftentimes, employers will interview someone with a disability, and will see the limitations perhaps what they can’t do, not necessarily what they can do and their strengths. Again, that’s tied into sometimes you know, how we identify other people. What are some of the things that you and I have worked with trying to educate employers awareness, breaking some myths and all these other kinds of things. When you talk to employers? What do you tell them about the benefits of hiring people with disabilities?
Linda Butler 13:40
Well, I think there’s a lot of benefits. I mean, people with disabilities because of what they’ve had to overcome, sometimes adapt better to changing situations. And they also bring alternate viewpoints, new ideas, fresh ideas, to solve problems that employers may be facing. It also improves morale. I think there’s been studies out there that if you have a person with a disability, working with you, it increases morale. I’ve seen some of this as well, you know, working with people on the worksite and seeing the people around them. We have this one girl who just blows everybody away by how she focuses and just does her job so well and quickly, and everybody’s like, Whoa, she’s Look at her. She’s so good. And then that kind of motivates them too Well, she can do I’m gonna do it too. Oh, yeah, right, exactly. So I think there’s those kinds of things but we also talk to employers about the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, they can get credit for hiring and keeping on a person with disability. There’s also the disabled access credit, which for any of the expenses they incur in accommodations, they can use some of the app for under the disabled access credit. So I mean, there are really numerous benefits. If you’re an employer, and you have customers coming in, if they see somebody like somebody with a disability working with them, the employer kind of gets a boost in credit for, you know, what they’re doing. You know, they’re, they’re helping their community or, you know, being open. If somebody with a disability goes into that store and sees somebody like themselves, there, they’re more likely to stay with that employer. I mean, there are a lot of different benefits for hiring somebody with a disability,ou know, working working here at the center, and with all centers, requiring that the staff and board over half have a disability in our center, I think it’s more like two thirds, you know, you and I get to see day in and day out what it’s like to work in an organization that is such a high prevalence of people with disabilities, like you said, the adaptability, there are challenges that we’re working with. So natural for many of our staff to be, you know, oh, this is how we adapt, we’re going to, you know, kind of look at the challenge, look at the barrier, understand it and look at all the different ways that we can adapt to it and get around it, get through it, get over it, and all these other wonderful things and do it with such enthusiasm, and such with the natural knack to do something like that, because that is kind of how we’re built and wired now is to see, okay, we’re used to this, we’re used to barriers and limitations, but it’s not a, you know, Roadblock, it won’t stop us, we’ll get through it. And we’ll do it with a good attitude. And because it’s kind of something that you know, we’ve gotten over or moved on with, or that’s just naturally how we are in that confidence and that enthusiasm, and that is infectious. I love that you mentioned that because I feel honored enough to work in an organization that has that type of diversity inside of it. And that’s wonderful. Yeah, that’s one of the greatest things about working here is is the diversity here. I think that for employers who have diverse populations, it’s the same thing that their employees really appreciate. You know, where they work so much more.
Tony Delisle 17:10
It creates a nice safe space, and people can be themselves and, and like you said that people in the community, see a piece of themselves are reflected back into them, it’s always a wonderful thing. And to see those kind of benefits that can come from employers. So one of the things that, you know, maybe that we can really kind of jump into here is, how would people get to know more about the services that you provide? So what is it exactly that you know, someone could expect to receive? If they come here, they’re there, they have a person with a disability, they want to work with the Center for Independent Living? What types of services could they look into, that are offered under the employment services?
Linda Butler 18:06
Yeah, for employment services, we offer competitive employment assistance, supported employment, which is more long term, more intense training on the job. We also have other services like pre-placement training to teach people the skills to become employed. These are things like interviewing skills, and how to write a resume and tailor it to the employer. We also have other services, we do job coaching, whether it’s supported or competitive employment, we can do job coaching, beyond the job with individuals. We have for youth self advocacy, which is another course teaches how to advocate for yourself, which is a really great skill, and particularly for the youth who were just coming out of high school into the real world. Learning how to speak up for yourself is very important. And it’s important even when it relates to jobs. So we have different types of things. We have work experiences for the youth are on the job training, where we can play somebody out in the community, and they can get that experience kind of a real life experience to test out whether this is the place for them. This is the kind of work they want to do. It also gives them the skills to eventually become employed in that type of work. We support people also with all of our other services here at the CIL. Anything that they might need, transportation, housing, assistance with getting bills paid sometimes, many of our consumers take advantage of that because you know, not being employed they may not have the ability to you know, meet their bills and we try to help them out with different services as well.
Tony Delisle 20:01
I think that’s one of the beauties of having an employment services baked within a Center for Independent Living, where you have all these wraparound type services that would obviously be needed sometimes if people are looking for employment, they, they might also be needing appropriate housing, they may need transportation, there may be other types of skills too, and that they’re looking for information and referral and, and all these other wonderful things that can get wrapped around into the people that you’re you’re working with. And, you know, so I love that you do the pre employment training, the advocacy, the on the job trainings that are offered, as you mentioned, you know, especially with youth transitioning from high school into post secondary life, the different supports that are there for people to find jobs as well. That’s fantastic. So if people wanted to get enrolled into these services, how would they go about doing that?
Linda Butler 20:54
Well, we’re a vendor with vocational rehabilitation. So they would call their local vocational rehabilitation office and go through the process of vocational rehabilitation, and they can ask for Center for Independent Living services for employment, come back to us, and we can help them out.
Tony Delisle 21:13
Great. Yeah, and we can put it in links into the show notes here about how to get in contact with the Florida Department of vocational rehabilitation, how to find your local office that’s around town. And so how you can meet with one of their counselors to see you know, where the best fit is. And if it’s a center here, we would love to be working with people to find meaningful employment in the community. And you I look forward to having more episodes on the topic of employment and disability, there are so many different areas that we can go into, regarding this topic. And you have so much experience, you’ve spent decades in this area, you’ve worked with so many different types of people of all different types of disabilities, all different types of ages, backgrounds, experiences, talents, interests. What is it that you’ve learned through your work with people with disabilities, that you would like other people to know about?
Linda Butler 22:07
Just that people with disabilities are people. People with all kinds of talents, unique talents, but just people you know, when you meet somebody with a disability, that is a person, take them at that, that’s, that’s what I’ve learned.
Tony Delisle 22:23
I love what you’re saying. For me I received that is kind of tied back into what you were saying earlier is when we see a disability, if it’s visible, we see that first. And there’s so much to a person beyond just the disability. And from my experiences, we’re all more alike than we are different. We have way more in common than we do different. And disability is one piece of that, you know, aspect. And so if you don’t have one, or you do have one, and there’s just so much more that we have in common of this human experience of what it means to be a person, so I appreciate what you’re saying, I’ve received that as a disability. Look beyond it. Yeah, and see yourself in others as well. And, you know, we’re living in a time where we’re looking for more unity, that’s a very important thing to always come back to, I think, is that we have more in common than we do different. And, you know, I think for some reason, we look at our differences, sometimes more. But you know, coming back to home, we’re all more alike than we are different is a very great point we’ll take in the question. We’re asking everybody, you know, as we initiate this podcast, and get into these beginning type episodes, what is to you, Linda Butler, the independent life?
Linda Butler 23:39
I relate to freedom, freedom, to just be. Freedom to get around your community, get around your house. Freedom to make choices, whether they’re good choices or bad choices. Freedom to make it. I just think that if everybody had the same freedoms that you know, it would be awesome.
Tony Delisle 24:02
Freedom, there’s a lot to be said for that. Well, Linda, I want to acknowledge you for so many of the time and effort, your thoughts, your skills, your talent, and your wisdom you put into this job. I’ve seen you dedicate yourself to a point to where you obviously have a lot of heart in what you do. You really care about other people. And you get it you’d work so very hard to lead others, your staff who are wonderful And likewise, are very dedicated and have a lot of hard to find people with disabilities, meaningful and sustainable employment. You’re so creative, too. I wanted to acknowledge your innovation. You’ve come up with like fire college camps, crime science investigation camps, all different kinds of ways of providing very engaging and meaningful opportunities to give people the skills, tools and experiences they need to find this kind of employment. Likewise, in the world of trying to go through all the different hoops that you need to go through, whether it’s administratively, whether it’s in the business community, all these different other moving pieces to your profession, you do with a high degree of skill. And it’s not easy to find someone that has all these different skill sets that are needed to really be blended together to do what you’re charged with doing so well. And so I just wanted to acknowledge you for all those kind of things that you do, and all those different kinds of buckets that are needed in order to integrate into getting people jobs. And so I just wanted to really acknowledge you for all that you do for the consumers. We serve for the Center, for your coworkers and for the community. What you do is priceless. So just want to thank you and acknowledge you for that and your for your staff as well, Linda.
Linda Butler 25:53
Well, I don’t do in a bubble. I have my staff, which are great, and, you know, support from administration too. So it’s not just me.
Tony Delisle 26:03
Well, thank you. Well, again, I appreciate all that you do, Linda, and for those of you that are tuning in and listening, thank you so much, and until next time, onward and upward.
Amy Feutz 26:19
Thanks for listening to The Independent Life podcast brought to you by the Center for Independent Living of North Central Florida. If you like what you hear, please rate review and subscribe. And if you know anyone who might benefit from listening, share this podcast and invite them to subscribe to for questions, suggestions, or if you have a story you’d like to share, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 352-378-7474. Thanks for joining us. Until next time, support, advocate and empower each other to live the independent life.