December 30, 1999
Helping the disabled find their ground in the job market
Even though Elizabeth Arkin joined Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) in September, she's still writing resumes and looking for work -- though not for herself.
That's because, as vocational counselor of the rehabilitation program for Los Angeles proper -- the Westside, Hollywood, Beverly Hills, etc., it is Arkin's occupation to help those with disadvantages land career opportunities in today's competitive job market. At JVS, an affiliate of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, with the help of the Department of Rehabilitation, Arkin individually assists those with severe disabilities -- such as blindness, mental and psychiatric illness, orthopedic problems -- on the finer points of seizing employment. Part of that process involves coaching the people she works with through job preparation, resume writing and interview skills.
"My goal is to build a bridge for my client to that job," says Arkin.
Goal is the operative word at JVS, as Arkin's work will also include a new program getting off the ground called GOALS, an acronym for Gaining Opportunities and Life Skills, aimed at assisting people with disabilities. JVS job assistance for the disabled is absolutely free.
One such client that Arkin works for is Judy Stearn, 49, who is blind.
"We're in contact every day," says Stearn. "We brainstorm together about ideas. She has gone into different employers." Stearn adds that Arkin paves the way for her before she meets with employers and gives them an idea about her personality and abilities, so that they are comfortable by the time they meet Stearn.
In Stearn's case, Arkin explains, "She had a lot of skills to begin with. We've worked on her resume."
Arkin's collaborative relationship with Stearn began when she made a trip out to Stearn's home.
"I was able to observe her computer which has assistive technology or adaptive equipment," says Arkin. "I was able to see how people who were blind use a computer."
After that initial visit, Arkin helped Stearn prepare for her desired job in customer service.
"I would go in, I would visit the employers... look at the job, see how many tasks were involved," says Arkin of her approach. She set about finding an employer willing to accommodate Stearn's adaptive equipment. As the JVS administrator describes it, Stearn uses voice-activated technology: "Software that speaks to you and you feel it with a Braille display."
So far, the road to finding Stearn a job has been kind of bumpy. Among the challenges Arkin and Stearn are tackling together: finding the right hours, the right proximity from Stearn's home, and, of course, willing employers.
"It's very difficult for blind people to get jobs because of people's attitude toward us," says Stearn. "So it's not an easy thing to break down the barriers and get jobs. Sometimes the employers flipped out. They'd ask, 'How are they going to do this? How are they going to do that? Who's gong to take care of them?' Well, I can take care of myself, thank you very much."
In fact, Stearn had worked for many years doing medical transcription, but took a break to raise her child, now nine. So her present challenge is re-entering the job market.
"She's very positive. She's also thorough," says Stearn of Arkin. She says that her counselor is "interested in what she does, so that makes it even better for employers to work with her, and vice versa."
Nevertheless, there are no guarantees of a happy ending -- despite all of the efforts of Arkin and Stearn. Four months into the JVS program, Stearn has yet to find a job. Stearn remains optimistic, and she does have an interview scheduled in January. Above all, Stearn appreciates the individual attention she gets from Arkin, who also works with seven other clients on an ongoing, one-to-one basis.
"I think we work well together," says Stearn. "My personality plus [Arkin's] clicks. We both have a lot of vitality that allows us to be cohesive."
Still, a helping hand from the outside would be more than appreciated, and anyone in the community with a job lead, or those interested in learning more about JVS programming, can contact Elizabeth Arkin at Jewish Vocational Service. Call (323) 761-888, ext. 163.
A Good Deal?
German companies may benefit from a proposed settlement that could shut out future restitution
By Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
The $5.2 billion settlement in the works to compensate wartime slave and forced laborers is a good deal for German companies, banks and insurers, but not for a wide range of claimants who suffered under the Nazi regime, warns Barry Fisher.
Fisher is a Los Angeles human rights lawyer, who is co-counsel in numerous Holocaust restitution lawsuits and represents not only Jewish interests, but also those of the Romani people (Gypsies), Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, the disabled and others.
The hundreds of German companies which profited from the exploitation of up to 1.5 million slave laborers, mostly Jews, and forced laborers, mostly non-Jews from central and eastern Europe, are to put up at least half of the $5.2 billion, according to the not yet finalized agreement.
But that figure is less impressive than it seems, because the companies are likely to reap a tax break making up to 50 percent of their contributions to the "humanitarian fund" deductible, says Fisher.
What upsets the attorney more is that with the final adoption of the pact, German industry, banks and insurers will be shielded from any and all future claims -- with the assistance of the U.S. government.
With the "legal peace" or "legal closure" foreseen under the agreement, German banks, which profited hugely from the forced "Aryanization" of mostly Jewish businesses and property, would no longer have to worry about future claims.
German insurance companies would be similarly shielded for all time.
While the humanitarian fund is supposed to also cover outstanding Aryanization and insurance claims, Fisher is skeptical that the fund is large enough to do the job. And he is unhappy that the U.S. government would be bound to oppose any future claims, once the settlement is signed.
Always, in the background, is the ticking of the biological clock, as the supposed beneficiaries of the fund, now mostly in their 70s and 80s, die off.
Fisher notes that even the $1.25 billion Swiss banking settlement, signed well over a year ago, has not yet been legally approved.
He and other attorneys fear that any payouts by the current slave labor fund are still one year off, if all goes well.
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