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Fair's Aim: To Expand Job Awareness of Handicapped


Three years ago, Josh Millman of Costa Mesa went job-hunting at a big career education fair at the Anaheim Convention Center.

Tuesday, Millman returned for another session of that annual event, but this time he attended as an honored guest of the seventh Orange County "Career Awareness Day," the only career fair in Southern California for handicapped high school and college-age youth.

Millman, now 22, spoke at a panel session called "Federal Job Opportunities: Special Placement Programs," where he told the audience about his experiences as a handicapped student.

In 1983 Millman was a learning-handicapped graduate of Mardan School, a private special education school in Costa Mesa, when he met Peggy Oliver, the employee relations manager for the U.S. Post Office in Santa Ana, at the education fair.

Tired of working in a hardware sales job that "didn't have the benefits" or security he wanted, Millman followed Oliver's advice to "call (her) every week" to see if there were openings available.

Eventually his persistence paid off. By early 1985 he was hired as a mail processor to work the sophisticated mail-sorting machines that had just been installed at the county's main mail facility in Santa Ana.

"Career Awareness Day" was designed to provide information about how handicapped youths can find jobs and to bring together young people like Millman with prospective employers like Oliver, said Caryl Miller, Orange County's special education coordinator.

This year the free, open-to-the-public fair drew about 4,500 participants from all 28 of Orange County's school districts, and from Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego and San Bernadino counties, Miller said.

About 75% of U.S. citizens with disabilities are unemployed, according to Miller. Orange County alone has 172,000 handicapped people, about 8% of the total county population, she said, and 28,123 of these are handicapped students currently enrolled in kindergarten through 12th grade. More than 50% of the handicapped students in Orange County have learning disabilities, Miller said.

A learning-handicapped student may be quite intelligent but "shows a severe discrepancy between achievement and ability" when academically tested, Miller said.

Impaired Skills

Such students' difficulties often include lack of eye-hand coordination, visual motor problems and language-processing difficulties that aren't the result of "cultural or environmental" factors, Miller said.

At the fair Tuesday, young people chose from 14 workshops with topics like "Reaching Your Highest Potential" and "Employment Possibilities in the Construction Industry," viewed films designed to inform and motivate them to find jobs and met 110 potential private industry and public employers at booth displays.

A sprinkling of parents and special education professionals were in attendance.

Jointly sponsored by the Orange County Department of Education and the Anaheim Union High School District, the job fair was underwritten by $5,500 in donations from local businesses.

Commitment to Hiring

On the federal job opportunities panel, Iris Greenberg, an employment opportunities specialist for the Internal Revenue Service's Los Angeles district, and Oliver discussed what Greenberg called the federal government's "strong commitment to hiring the handicapped" through its selective placement program.

Under this program, Greenberg said, any handicapped person certified by the California Department of Rehabilitation as having "one or more major life faculties impaired" can "apply to almost any federal agency, have the (qualifying) tests waived and come aboard."

For example, IRS positions in all fields are available to handicapped individuals who have the necessary skills, according to Greenberg. Learning-handicapped individuals can work in data entry and retrieval, mail handling, general clerical work and the tax examination department of the IRS, she said.

To facilitate hiring the blind, hearing-impaired and physically disabled, the IRS is set up with high-tech Brailling devices, sign language interpreters and accessible work areas, Greenberg said.

About 7% of the IRS district's work force in Los Angeles is handicapped, she added.

Oliver said handicapped individuals fill positions as window clerks, carriers, mail handlers, distribution clerks, mail forwarders and letter sorters in Orange County post offices.

However, she added that only 35 of between 300 and 400 individuals hired by the Santa Ana Post Office last year were handicapped. Just under 6% of the employees at that central Orange County post office are handicapped, she said.

Getting the Job

To get jobs, handicapped applicants "have to have some work history that shows they want to work, that they're reliable," Oliver said. "We like to do a thorough screening and . . . make sure the job fits the person."

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