By Ida Sameri + Carla Valencia de Martinez
Workforce Solutions, the public workforce system in the 13-county Houston- Galveston region, helps employers meet human resource needs and area residents build careers, so both can better compete in the global economy. With an Employer Service team providing individualized services that help employers find qualified applicants for jobs, and with 25 career offices across the region, Workforce Solutions’ staff help people find jobs, keep jobs or get better jobs.
CORNELIUS BOOKER is a Regional Disability Navigator for Workforce Solutions. Booker’s passion for helping individuals with disabilities comes from the personal challenges he faced after becoming a paraplegic due to an accident at the age of 17. His efforts ensure Workforce Solutions staff are knowledgeable about the opportunities and programs available for disabled consumers, just one demographic that faces obstacles to full employment. Accessibility is more than just ramps for wheelchairs. It is education, transportation, training, job opportunities and access to health services. Booker works to make customers aware of the opportunities and programs available for disabled consumers in Houston – MetroLift, the Multi-Service Centers, Lighthouse of the Blind, TIRR and Sight Into Sound, among them.
What is considered disabled?
CB Usually being disabled is someone that had/has a major life change that is different from everyday activities and that have to do things differently than most people. They have to change the way they operate and do things – mobile, visual, hearing.
How accessible is Houston for the disabled?
CB It’s been rated as one of the most accessible cities in the country but we still have a long way to go – the city has a lot of things it’s planning on changing, for instance the sidewalks could be more accessible.
Are there any specific services to ensure people with disabilities can get around?
CB Most disabled people use the MetroLift services, which is one of the most widely used ways of getting around in Houston. Also, with Yellow Cab, they are now starting a service to work with people with disabilities outside of their contract with Metro.
What is done for people with disabilities?
CB Every event that is operated by the City should be accessible to anyone with disabilities. We are also making sure that movie theaters are accessible. Workforce Solutions has a navigator team that works hard to improve employment opportunities for people with disabilities, and Houston Commission on Disabilities is also there to address the needs of the community.
What changes do you foresee in 2016?
CB One of the things that we are working on to change is improved awareness on the importance of including people with disabilities in the community. We are meeting about a disability event that’s in the process of being planned. It’ll be like a parade, with other activities that people with disabilities and those without will be able to participate together. The hope is to demonstrate the contribution of people with disabilities and prevent discrimination so there is more inclusion – that’s one of the things that Houston could improve on: being more inclusive and recognizing the impact that people with disabilities have had and will continue to have. We also have a disability month kickoff each year in October.