Greatest hurdle for the disabled is prejudice

photo by Rick GunnChristine Welter leaves her Carson City home Tuesday morning. Although blind, she is proficient in telephone switchboard operation and looking for a job.

photo by Rick GunnChristine Welter leaves her Carson City home Tuesday morning. Although blind, she is proficient in telephone switchboard operation and looking for a job.

Carson City resident Christine Welter has been blind from birth, but if she could be granted any wish, it wouldn't be for her sight.

"I'd wish for the ability to convince people I'm capable of doing a job," Welter said. "My problem is the same one every person with a disability faces. My problem is other people's reaction to my blindness."

Once a California resident, Welter worked in quality assurance and as a receptionist for 11 years. She also worked at a bakery, in addition to numerous odd jobs. She moved to Nevada for an opportunity as a snack bar operator, but that didn't pan out and she hasn't been able to find a job since.

She's been unemployed for 10 years.

"I offered to work for free at the Ormsby House, just for a couple of days so I could prove myself," she said. "But I was turned down. They wouldn't say why. They never do."

Welter admitted to her share of mistakes. She attended the University of California at Berkeley but didn't complete her degree.

"I was a Berkeley burnout," she said with a smile.

"I would give anything to have a job. It's not fun to be poor, to not have things, but the issues are so much larger," she said. "I think every human being has the innate need to be part of a whole, to be included. All I want is a place in the world. No one wants to be left out."

Her frustrations were matched by other disabled adults gathered at Accessible Space Inc. on East Fifth Street in Carson City. Not all live in this special apartment complex, designed to allow the disabled to live independently, but all had the same complaints.

Judy Johnson, a teacher's aide, is blind from complications of diabetes. She volunteered at a Fallon day-care for three years before being hired and has been looking for work in Carson City since she moved here with her husband a year ago.

"They realized my worth when I heard an 18-month-old put a piece of plastic in her mouth," Johnson said. "The room was full of kids and I was the only one who noticed it.

"The biggest thing is making others aware of what we can do," she said.

Salesman Craig Inman has been in a wheelchair since a car accident in 1983 and Vince Piersanti, who turned 23 Tuesday, suffered nerve damage after a car accident on Geiger Grade three years ago.

Once a high-school athlete, Piersanti has coached at both Dayton High School and at Carson City's Church of Latter-day Saints since his accident.

He wants a special bike that will allow him to pedal with his hands so he can start competing again, but the bike costs several thousand dollars.

He said he has no idea where he'll get the money.

Diedre Manley, a site supervisor at Accessible Space, brought the group together.

She works as an independent contractor with Nevada's Department of Rehabilitation and spends untold hours working to get these people jobs, she said.

"I work with a variety of people -- all with disabilities," she said. "They're intelligent and very capable, but I have a very hard time finding them employment."

She said a number of state programs will augment the salaries of disabled employees, in addition to the tax breaks.

"This country is penny wise and pound foolish," Welter said. "If I'm sitting home watching Oprah and living on ( Supplemental Security Income), I'm not helping anyone.

"We're capable and loyal," she said. "We'll do what's necessary to hold onto a job and we're safer. We'll take all the precautions because we're more vulnerable."

October is National Disability Awareness Month.

The American Disabilities Act was signed by President George Bush in 1990.

Built upon the foundation laid by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and sections 501 and 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the ADA establishes a clear and comprehensive prohibition of discrimination on the basis of disability.


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