Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Disability No Bar to Jobs, Expert Says

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Disability No Bar to Jobs, Expert Says

Article excerpt

"There are so many stereotypes, and there's so much fear of hiring people with disabilities," Cathy Contarino says from her busy office on Broadway in Alton.

"I think people with disabilities are looked on as `medical tragedies' and not capable of working - and that's just not true."

For example, she says, "I have a physical disability. I use a wheelchair. It's just part of life."

Contarino, director of community services at a social-services agency in Alton, holds a key post on the frontlines of the Illinois W.I.N.S. campaign.

W.I.N.S. - which stands for Watch Inclusion Nurture Success - started last October as a statewide campaign to encourage small and medium-sized businesses in Illinois to find jobs for disabled people. Contarino is one of scores of people with disabilities who proudly trumpet the campaign's message across the state.

The message is this: Everyone's a winner when businesses hire disabled people.

Contarino holds press conferences, meets with civic groups and encourages businesses to hire the disabled in Southern Illinois communities from Alton to East St. Louis to Carbondale.

"People with disabilities are an untapped resource," she says. "Employers need to look at peoples' qualities and their qualifications to do a job instead of at the person's disability."

W.I.N.S. is sponsored by the Illinois Planning Council on Developmental Disabilities.

Contarino, 30, has a neuromuscular disorder. She and her husband, Matt, own a home in Godfrey. Matt Contarino works as assistant manager of the jewelry department in a large area store.

For her work at IMPACT Inc., a social services agency in Alton, Contarino recently won the Dr. Judy Smithson Advocacy Award, a statewide honor, from the Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities in Illinois.

Contarino is considered a local expert on the Americans with Disabilities Act. And she's often sought by local governments and businesses to review building plans for them to make facilities more accessible. …

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