Protest addresses lack of construction jobs for the disabled

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People with disabilities don’t just want to ride the Central Corridor light rail line — they want to help build it, according to more than 20 protesters who gathered in downtown St. Paul Wednesday.

The protest, put together by Kaposia — a business that helps the disabled find employment — was held in response to a Metropolitan Council “mixer” at a different St. Paul location Wednesday. The mixer was designed to help women and minorities find construction jobs on the Central Corridor and other large projects in the area. The problem: people with disabilities said they feel they are not being included in job opportunities, Carol Rydell, service development coordinator for Kaposia said.

The Met Council mixer included workshops to help those with disabilities find employment, but Rydell said these programs can only do so much since the Minnesota Department of Human rights has not set employment goals for people with disabilities.

“They have set employment goals that they have to reach for women and minorities, but not for disabled people,” she said. “They are going to be looking for women and minorities to hire at the mixer because they have to meet their goals.”

The Minnesota Department of Human Right’s construction employment goal for women is 6 percent statewide, and 11 percent for minorities in the seven-county metropolitan area.

Jeff Holman, spokesman for the state’s Human Rights Department, said that the department doesn’t have goals set for those with disabilities because the state rules that they follow only include women and minorities. In order to include the disabled, the rules would have to be changed by the Legislature, he said.

The Met Council doesn’t have the legal authority to set employment goals for people with disabilities, but is working to reach out to them through programs such as the workshop, Laura Baenen, spokeswoman for the Central Corridor project said.

However, Jon Alexander, an executive officer from Kaposia , said workshops for the disabled were not included in early literature sent out about the mixer.

“We just got a call Monday saying that they were holding a workshop for people with disabilities, but there was no mention of anything before that,” he said.

Alexander said they chose not to rally at the mixer because they support women and minorities finding construction employment and didn’t want to disrupt the event.

Nikki Villavicencio, an intern at the Gillette Children’s Hospital was at Wednesday’s rally. Villavicencio suffers from arthrogryposis, a rare congenital disorder that is characterized by permanent shortening of joints.

“I see people everyday who have jobs but don’t value them, she said. “I think there are many people with disabilities that are assets to the community and need a job.”

The Central Corridor light rail line, which will connect downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul via University and Washington Avenues, is set to begin construction in late summer 2010.

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