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‘Employment first’ stresses jobs for people who experience disabilities

By Lauren Maxwell Photojournalist: Jared Mazurek - 7:16 PM June 23, 2014

Most of us would say it’s important to have a job, but what if you couldn’t get one just because you experienced a disability? A new law may make it easier for people with disabilities to find jobs and keep them.

Gov. Sean Parnell recently declared Alaska an “employment first” state. It means that state agencies and school districts in Alaska need to work together to make employment a priority for people with disabilities — to train people, help them find jobs and to give them the support they need to stay employed.

Employers might wonder what those jobs would look like and others would be surprised at what some people who experience disabilities can do. Case in point is Clarence Garner; he’s worked at True Value Hardware on Jewel Lake Road for 10 years.

On the day KTVA visited the store, Garner was operating the floor-cleaning machine with a clean pressed shirt, black slacks and a bowtie. He wanted to look good for his interview.

“He likes to brag about his bowtie and he likes to wear it on occasion,” said True Value owner Tim Craig.

Garner showed us around the store. The 49-year-old mostly does janitorial work, but he loves to talk with customers and he has an idea where most things are located.

“If I can’t find things and I’m really busy then what I do is … I read the signs!” Garner said.

Garner gets other help as well. He has a job coach who comes to the store nearly every day.

“He does a very good job,” said Momodou Hydra. He works for the nonprofit Assets, which works to support people with disabilities. Garner doesn’t need a lot of assistance, Hydra said.

“Supported employment for Clarence is to make sure he is able stay on track and make sure that what is expected of him he is able to do,” Hydra said.

But that really hasn’t been a problem, according to Craig. He said Garner is a hard worker who always earns his pay.

“He’s part of our team, he’s part of our family, he attends all of our store events and everybody here loves him,” Craig said.

Garner has found more than a job at True Value, he has friendships and a purpose to his day. If you see him peddling his signature orange bicycle around the Jewel Lake area, you should know that he has a place to go. There’s a good chance he’s heading to work.

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