Robert Pace, 30, has had trouble finding and keeping jobs most of his adult life. He has sickle cell anemia, which affects the body’s red blood cells, leaving him winded with blurry vision and severe pain.
At work, he knows his schedule can be unpredictable and he will need extra breaks. He’s yet to find an employer who understands the accommodations he requires.
“I know that’s kind of hard to work with, so I see the negative,” said Pace. “I also see that I am a hard worker, exceptional at what I do.”
Pace has jumped from job to job over the last decade, often noticing the same pattern: he’ll experience a pain crisis, the name given to one of the major symptoms of sickle cell anemia, that will put him in the hospital and out of commission for over a month. Because he can’t show up for work, his hours will be cut short and he’ll eventually be let go.
When he is not working, Pace said he leans on his family for support and picks up administrative tasks for their trucking business as a side gig to make some extra money.
Last week, Pace started a new job at Target and while he is excited, he is also wary of how the company will react when his condition inevitably flares up again.
That’s why he is looking forward to attending Long Beach’s first ever job fair for people with disabilities next month, where employers that are open to and understanding of those who live with visible or invisible disabilities like Pace will come together to offer jobs to the community.
“People don’t understand how tough it is for people with disabilities to get jobs,” said Pace. He hopes to find a long term employer that will understand what it means to hire someone with a disability.
The job fair, hosted by the Citizens’ Advisory Commission on Disability of Long Beach, will be held on Oct. 3 from 2 to 5 p.m. in the Civic Center Plaza and City Hall Lobby in recognition of National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
So far, about 10 employers have agreed to attend, including various city departments, Long Beach Transit and Access Paratransit, a public transportation service for people with disabilities, according to Jennifer Kumiyama, accessibility coordinator for the city.
Of the nearly 50,000 residents in Long Beach that identify as having a disability, 33% are unemployed. This community is often overlooked in the job force and expected to thrive and exist in a world that is not created for them, said Kumiyama. The pandemic especially brought to light the benefit of working from home, where people with disabilities can have control and independence in their jobs, she said.
“People with disabilities are people first,” said Kumiyama. “Having an employee with a disability shouldn’t be looked at as just a challenge, it can be looked at as an opportunity.”
Her hope is that employers who set up booths at the job fair and participants looking for work can come together in full force to tap into the potential of the disability community.
Businesses and hiring managers are still encouraged to sign up and participate in the fair as well as an informational workshop on Sept. 7 titled, “Demystifying + Destigmatizing Disability in the Workplace,” where they can learn more about breaking down the harmful stereotypes about people with disabilities that can hinder access to job opportunities. Registration for the workshop can be found here.
The job fair will be hosted in partnership with the Disabled Resources Center, Mental Health America of Los Angeles, the California Department of Rehabilitation, and Pacific Gateway Network. Additional resources for those living with a disability can be found on each organization’s website.