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Shadow Ability

September 29, 2010, 10:05 PM by Jon Wilson

SIOUX FALLS,SD - October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. It's a chance to recognize the contributions of Americans with disabilities to society and the workplace. We showcase a shadow program that highlights the worker, not the job.

Paying close attention to detail, Gilberto Donis is scrubbing a Jeep from top to bottom for a special occasion.  The daughter of a customer at Graham Automotive in Sioux Falls is having a birthday.

"The best part of my job? Everything, you know. Everything is good," Gilberto said.  "I bought a house, I got to pay bills, lot of things to pay, you know?"

Body Shop manager Gale Ljunggren hired Gilberto about two years ago.

"Gilberto is an excellent employee, he does a very good job for us, he's very dependable," Ljunggren said.

Gilberto also has a disability.

"Gilberto worked at a job that was very, very laborious physically and it really took a toll on his body and came to us to find something a little more compatible with his disability," Job Developer Ted Ornas said.

Ornas is in the business of putting people to work and visited roughly ten employers with Gilberto before interviewing with Graham Automotive.

"I don't believe I have heard Gilberto complain about anything. He just puts his nose to the stone and works away," Ljunggren said.

Gilberto is also participating in a job-shadow program to help recognize disability employment awareness month. But this shadow program highlights the employee instead of the job.

"Every year, agencies do something for awareness month and we thought this year of doing something in reverse. Having some managers or maybe some HR people go out and observe our clients working," Ornas said.

Ornas recruited Lowe's Manager Morgan Jackson to shadow Gilberto.

"And he asks me what my opinions are and what I think possible candidates could do for our community as far as in the workforce," Lowe's Store Manager Morgan Jackson said.

This is valuable feedback coming from someone who knows. Jackson has hired nearly a dozen workers with disabilities since Lowe's arrived in Sioux Falls nearly four years ago.

"They'll move mountains for you. And times what your expectations are and how far they exceed your expectations whether it be what they do on a day-to-day basis or what they're capable of doing," Jackson said.

Jackson encourages other store managers or business owners to spend some time as a shadow and see for themselves what this special workforce has to offer.

"Come out and give them a chance and see what they're doing. They will blow you away, they really will and that comes from the bottom of my heart," Jackson said.

"He's an excellent employee, couldn't ask for anything better.  I wish we had two or three more of him," Ljunggren said.

Dependable, reliable and loyal: three qualities that many workers with disabilities bring to the workplace.  All they need is a chance to prove themselves.

If you are interested in participating in the job shadow program or hiring a disabled worker, contact Ted Ornas, with "On The Job Employment Services" at (605) 400-4541. South Dakota Vocational Rehabilitation Services can also help.

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