Disabled Workers Bring Business To Life


The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law 24 years ago, however, only 13 percent of individuals with intellectual and other developmental disabilities are employed.

Russell O’ Connell, Jeannine Azan and Stephen Penninipede

One Long Island company is seeking to change that, by not only intentionally hiring more people with disabilities, but empowering them to teach others.

eVero is a 22-employee technology company that builds network infrastructure and customized software. Its clients include Westbury-based YAI and FREE (Family Residences and Essential Enterprises), agencies which provide services to support people with disabilities achieving maximizing independence, including employment. A little over two years ago YAI encouraged eVero to hire one of their clients as an employee, an opportunity the company embraced with “open arms.”

eVero business manager Jeannine Azan from Levittown says that the office environment has changed for the better since the company started hiring individuals with disabilities.

“This office was a little dry prior to them getting here. They really brought our business to life and gave it heart. We really enjoy having them, they add so much to the office,” says Azan. “They’re really dedicated and hardworking, and they’re happy to have the opportunity and take pride in working here—and that trickles down to the rest of the staff.”

eVero currently has six employees that were hired through YAI and FREE working part-time at their Melville office. Three of the workers help with office duties such as data entry, inventory and administrative tasks; the others help with eVero’s outreach program.

Through its outreach, eVero seeks to empower developmentally disabled individuals by teaching them valuable life and career skills. The company offers two seminars: a computer skills class (which meets once a week for 10 weeks) and job interview skills (once a week for five weeks).

Both classes are taught by employees supported by YAI/FREE, and attended by those in the YAI’s employment services and day programs. The classes are geared toward helping attendees find employment. Part of the interview-skills training involves filling out an eVero application, which can lead directly to employment.

“It’s been really rewarding. We have eight to 10 individuals who sign up for each seminar,” says Azan. “There’s interaction and role playing, and it’s great for the executives to be a part of it too because they do the interviewing. We get so much from this.”

Stephen Penninipede has been the head instructor for the company’s outreach program since November. He never imagined he would be teaching others, but jumped at the opportunity.

Students from Westbury’s YAI employment services and day program attend a interview skills class at eVero

“I like it. I always says it’s my first big-boy job,” says Penninipede. “Everything before this has been retail, but I see this as a career. It’s much better than folding clothes all day.”

He says being in eVero’s office and working with other professionals has helped him learn valuable job skills.

“I have a lot more duties here than at other jobs. I’ve taught and worked with computers and written papers, and done social media and PR. I’ve learned a lot about working with and around others,” he says. “And when it’s time to move on, I’ll have a lot more experience under my belt.”

eVero Senior Advisor Russell O’Connell, from Port Washington, says that hiring people with differing abilities does come with its share of challenges. But when people are flexible and committed to make it work, the experience is extremely rewarding for everyone involved.

“Does this program cost something? Yes. Is it worthwhile in terms of a business perspective? Yes. Is it worthwhile in terms of human growth? Yes,” says O’Connell. “It is not only good for the people who’ve been employed, but the people who work here have improved by not seeing the world from such a narrow perspective. It’s okay to sometimes slow down and listen to another person and have some kind of investment in seeing them grow and develop. We learn more from them than they do from us.”

Azan echoes the sentiment, saying the partnership with YAI and FREE has been a win-win situation.

“I’ve been an office manager for 15 years and this is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done,” she says. “I’ll take it with me wherever I go.”