Dawn Bookhardt-Bowen was working at Ramble on Pearl, a Boulder boutique, last year when the coronavirus began to spread in Boulder County and the country.
Wanting to protect his health, Bookhardt-Bowen quit his job at the store for six months.
“I was afraid to go back to work,” she says. “I didn’t get back to work until I was sure the store was set up for social distancing and sanitation.”
The Boulder resident is a graduate of Ramble on Pearl’s Work Learning Program for People with Developmental and Developmental Disabilities. As part of the program, apprentices work in the clothing and accessories store to gain paid work experience, while learning from professional coaches and eventually obtaining employment beyond the store.
Nonprofit co-founder Connie Minden has seen firsthand the impact of the pandemic on workers with disabilities. Of its approximately 10-person program, five graduates either lost their jobs or were put on leave. The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment said it did not have timely state data on the number of people with disabilities who had lost or found jobs, pointing instead to national sources.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 17.9% of people with disabilities were employed in 2020 – a decrease from 19.3% in 2019. The report notes that from 2019 to 2020, unemployment increased, at the both disabled and non-disabled, at rates of 12.6% and 7.9%, respectively.
Minden is optimistic about winning back jobs, as hiring shortages in industries have opened up job opportunities. This year, she said, two people involved in the program were able to return to their original jobs and three found new jobs. The Kessler Foundation, a non-profit disability service, shows in its July 2021 employment report that more people with disabilities across the country are working this year compared to 2020, with labor market participation rates. work going from 33% to 35.2% by 2021.
While obstacles persist throughout the ongoing pandemic, people with disabilities still face challenges in their job search.
Leaders from the Center for People with Disabilities, a Colorado-based nonprofit service provider, and the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, which helps people with disabilities find and keep jobs and grow in the workplace Workers, say they continue to see people expressing health and safety concerns in the wake of the ongoing pandemic and the outbreak of the delta variant of the coronavirus.
Minden is a former California schoolteacher who, along with her husband, Andy Minden, founded Boulder Treasures, the nonprofit that runs Ramble on Pearl.
The couple’s inspiration to start the association was their daughter, Kendra Minden, 29, who has trisomy 18, a chromosomal abnormality. Kendra was among those who had a job outside of the store, but lost it last year due to the pandemic. She has since returned to Ramble on Pearl to help as an apprentice keep her professional skills up to date.
Connie Minden hopes the store will serve as an example.
“A lot of people are happy that they volunteer, but when it comes to committing to pay it’s a challenge,” she said. “That’s a big part of why my husband and I decided to do it, because of the demeanor of this population. We pay them full minimum wage as an example for others and also because they need a paid job on their CV. “
Bookhardt-Bowen said Ramble on Pearl has taken all necessary precautions to make employees feel safe during the pandemic. This effort encouraged her to return to work, when the store began to bring people back in phases, having closed from March to May.
“Everything that could be done happened so that I could go back to work and feel comfortable,” she said.
After graduating from an apprenticeship, Bookhardt-Bowen continued last summer to work a temporary job cleaning equipment at a gymnasium. His hours were eventually reduced, however, from 32 hours per week to six hours per week.
“I wasn’t making the same money, of course,” Bookhardt-Bowen said. “Fortunately, I have a very supportive family; they were able to step in and help me carry myself for a few months until I found another job.
When gym work officially ended in March, Bookhardt-Bowen said, it took her about three months to land her current job at Whole Foods, where she works in the main kitchen to help prepare food.
The Boulder resident said the obstacles to finding employment throughout the pandemic were not that different from regular challenges, such as being prepared to “constantly interview.”
Holly Ewing is a program manager for the Center for People with Disabilities and is based in the Thornton office. The non-profit organization provides services, including an employment program, to help people with disabilities in Boulder, Longmont and Broomfield find employment.
“We had people who were able to return to work what they wanted to do and the hours they wanted,” Ewing said. “We also had other people who decided, ‘It’s still not safe for me to go back to work, so I’m going to stay out of the job market.’ Now they’re trying to look for something else. that they could do that would be a more distant setting. “
Another obstacle to returning to work has been the limitation of vaccination against the COVID-19 virus. Ewing said some people with disabilities have autoimmune disorders and their doctors have advised them against getting the vaccine. Others continue to face transportation barriers that make accessing a clinic on their own inaccessible.
Like Minden, Ewing has also seen more job opportunities open up due to hiring shortages, but the situation has not spared nonprofits that help people with disabilities.
Ewing said a major challenge for people with disabilities, who need one-on-one support to find work, is that places that help them, like the Center for People with Disabilities, are themselves understaffed. . This means a longer waiting list for people who need services.
In the Vocational Rehabilitation Division, Longmont District Supervisor Rebecca Virkus also cited a major barrier to returning to work as health issues.
“There are some people with disabilities who have health issues that need to be considered when looking for a job,” she wrote in an email. “There have been more requests to find a job that allows remote work. “
Ewing added, “Historically, depending on their disability, a lot of people work at the entry level, in front-line positions in retail, in restaurants. These are the ones for whom COVID is of greatest concern. “
Despite all the obstacles, Virkus said the Vocational Rehabilitation Division continues to work alongside people with disabilities to secure them employment. In the last year of performance between April 2019 and March 2020, she said 1,484 people served by the Vocational Rehabilitation Division were able to find jobs in Colorado.
In search of a better future
Being able to be together again in person has already helped Ramble on Pearl overcome some of the challenges he faced while walking away.
“It’s hard to teach job skills when you’re not in a space where you can learn them physically,” Minden said. “We had to do a lot of backtracking when we were able to get people back into the store. We had to relearn (these skills). If you don’t have this ability to practice, you are losing a lot of the ground that you have gained.
At the back of the store, Minden holds a whiteboard listing 40 skills apprentices should learn, based on their individual abilities. While not everyone goes on to retail jobs, she said that many skills, such as vacuuming, dusting and cleaning bathrooms, translate into skills that can help someone. to be independent in his everyday life.
On Thursday morning, she ticked off the skills Apprentice Harrison Price had learned as he bustled around the back of the store while working.
“I was just bragging about you,” Minden told Price.
“Remember I have ears everywhere,” he joked.
Back in the store, among shelves of clothing, wall displays of purses and jewelry, Price hung up some new shirts and put the merchandise away.
“There are a lot of things I could say,” Price said when asked what the best parts of his job were. “I love all the people here. They are helpful and experienced.
Price’s dream jobs involve something that utilizes his favorite hobbies: acting and writing fiction. When not at the store, he participates in CenterStage’s Tapestry Theater Company in Louisville, which provides casting opportunities for actors with disabilities. In his most recent role, he played Lord Farquaad in a rendition of “Shrek”.
With just two other skills to master, Price is set to find work outside of Ramble. After Ramble, Price said he hopes to find a job at a restaurant.
For those looking to find work now, Bookhardt-Bowen has encouraged them not to give up.
“Achieve full-time working hours,” Bookhardt-Bowen said. “Keep doing interviews.”
To learn more
Division of Vocational Rehabilitation: 825 Delaware Ave. No. 402, Longmont, phone number: 303-774-4920, online: dvr.colorado.gov
Center for the Disabled: 1675 Range St., Boulder, Phone: 303-442-8662, Online: cpwd.org
Ramble on Pearl, 1638 Pearl St., Boulder, Phone number: 303-442-2267, Online: rambleonpearl.com