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AbilityOne Associate Embarks on Career Path at Goodwill

“I’m in a wheelchair, but Goodwill helped me find a job that doesn’t remind me of the things I can’t do,” said Antonio Williams. He handles stocking at Norfolk Naval Shipyard’s commissary in Portsmouth. His workplace is spacious, which makes it easy for him to move around. “Many times, an employer wanted to hire me, but I couldn’t move around the building,” he said.

The Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) referred Williams to Goodwill in 2016. He needed help finding a job in a wheelchair-accessible environment that could also offer support to physically challenged employees. Williams met with Joan Cugle, a Goodwill employment specialist in Hampton Roads.

She determined Williams was eligible for AbilityOne, a federal contract program designed to provide employment opportunities for people who are blind or have significant disabilities. Goodwill Services Incorporated (GSI), an entity related to Goodwill of Central and Coastal Virginia, holds several AbilityOne contracts and administers the recruitment, training, staffing and support of more than 300 individuals annually, 76 percent of whom have documented disabilities.

“When I first met Antonio, he was very personable and looked forward to creating a career plan. He told me he had a specialized vehicle that allowed him to drive with hand controls, so transportation wouldn’t be a barrier to employment for him,” said Cugle.

Creating a career plan for Williams involved situational assessments and on-site working interviews. He and Cugle visited prospective employers together to gauge his comfort level with the workspace’s wheelchair accessibility. Cugle was also available for support when Williams spoke to a manager about the commissary’s ability to accommodate him when needed.

“It’s important to know what job seekers need from their employer before the actual interview. But it’s even more important for those with disabilities to experience a prospective working environment to see if it’s the right fit for them,” said Cugle.

Cugle credits her ability to coordinate these types of visits in part with Goodwill’s strong employment partnerships. “Our mission of creating pathways to opportunity and success is something many businesses appreciate and agree with. We have the resources and training that gives us an edge in the workforce development industry,” she said.

Williams is still enjoying his job at the Portsmouth commissary, one year later. “The people I work with are always willing to help me with tasks I can’t do because it’s out of reach,” he said. “We’re a team, and I enjoy the fact that I can be independent and earn my own money.”