Individuals with disabilities struggle to be employed

Pedro Acevedo Jr., 35, has autism and has difficulty speaking. He earned his associate’s degree in computer science at Miami Dade College as well as two certificates, one as a microcomputer repairer and installer and another as a computer specialist.

But after nine years of work, Acevedo can’t find a job.

Following Acevedo’s graduation from MDC, the Dan Marino Foundation-accredited school awarded him a scholarship for the training.

None of this would have been possible if Acevedo’s mother, Esther Castillo, would not have fought advisors, job coaches and school personnel to get her son a higher education despite his disabilities.

Two years ago, Acevedo was hired for a job as a computer repairman, but he could not start because the pandemic had begun. Since then, many employers have rejected him based on his condition and have not allowed him the opportunity to demonstrate the computer skills he acquired while completing his degree.

Castillo said her son has suffered discrimination from an early age because when people see he has difficulty speaking to strangers, they dismiss his ability to participate or work.

Despite all this, Acevedo and his mother have not stopped looking for jobs in the technology field. But those that call him back are usually to be a gardener or a cashier.

“My son just needs a chance,” Castillo said. “He would be the best employee anyone could have.”

Acevedo’s condition served as the inspiration for Castillo to fund the International Foundation for Autism and Related Disabilities, a non-profit community service organization to help children with autism or other disabilities and educate their families.

Reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Autism Speaks indicate that more than half of young adults with developmental disabilities are unemployed and do not enroll in higher education after high school. Those who manage to have a paying job, earn an average of $160 a week, which is well below the poverty level.

The Fair Labor Standards Act is a law that has existed since 1938 and allows employers to pay disabled people as little as $3.34 an hour, less than minimum wage.

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The US Bureau of Labor Statistics employment  data comparison between people with disabilities and people without. (Carolina Lopez/SFMN)

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona announced in a press release on March 18 an initiative called the Subminimum Wage to Competitive Integrated Employment, a project that states all Americans should have economic security. This new initiative could allow people with disabilities to earn more appropriate salaries to support themselves and their families.

Heber Prieto, 23, is studying psychology at Florida International University and has autism.

Prieto has received therapy from the age of 13 that has helped him improve his social skills and learn more about his condition.  

Prieto will have his bachelor’s degree a year from now. He plans to work once he graduates from FIU and hopes someone will give him the opportunity.

His mother, Yadmila Boullosa, never pressured him to study, but once he began to show interest, supported him to achieve his goals.

“I think it’s great that he can be part of the household economy,” Boullosa said. “I think he would feel useful and accomplished.”

Boullosa said Prieto suffered a lot of bullying at school from his classmates. However, she urges parents of special children not to limit their children out of fear.

“Fear prevents them from moving forward and achieving things they thought were impossible,” said Boullosa. “If you limit someone out of fear you will never know where that person could have gone.”

Carolina Lopez is a sophomore majoring in journalism at Florida International University. After graduation she wishes to become a broadcast news analyst.