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Employment Resources For
HIV-Positive Job Seekers
column seeing in the dark
As a Community Grand Marshal for the
2015 San Francisco Pride Parade, I spent the
last month attending pride events all over San
Francisco. With my guide dog, Oslo, I moseyed
through festive crowds, shaking hands and
giving hugs. And while I met tons of smart and
funny people, there is one person that stood out
from the bunch.
He had large hands, a deep voice and was
exactly my age; he was also full of questions.
“How did you become a writer? Who helped
you get your writing jobs? Wow, you are a
teacher too? How did you get that job?”
As a former career advice blogger, I shared
my job search tips without hesitation. Yet, as
he confessed that he was HIV positive, and
had been looking for work for almost a year, I
thought about the challenges of finding work
with a disability that’s not visible to the public.
We exchanged contact information and I asked
him to send me a note so I could forward along
some information, but I never heard back from
him. I did, though, hear from other HIV-positive
men, who, like the guy from the pride party,
were deeply frustrated with their inability to
find a job.
The unemployment rate among the disabled
is high. Among the blind community, for
example, it’s at 70 percent, and I believe it’s
because people with disabilities don’t always get
the interview training needed to land a job with
a disability. Furthermore, many people living
with a disability are not always familiar with the
agencies that offer employment services.
Since I don’t have any experience with looking
for work with an invisible disability, I reached
out to the Positive Resource Center in San
Francisco. Within an hour of leaving a message,
I was on the phone with the Executive Director
of the organization, Brett Andrews. And a short
bit after that, I was exchanging emails with the
agency’s Supervising Employment Specialist,
The Positive Resource Center serves HIV-
positive clients and individuals with mental
health disabilities. They work with San Francisco
residents, but can also work with clients
from other counties through the California
Department of Vocational Rehabilitation.
Reilly, who has been with Positive Resource
Center for 18 years, says staying competitive in
a changing economy is tough for all job seekers,
since they must work on both hard and soft
skills. PRC is facing this challenge head on by
providing classes in software applications,
like Microsoft Office, as well as by offering
workshops in interviewing and self-branding.
“The Employment Specialists at PRC,”
shared Reilly, “are really skilled in helping a
client identify their ‘brand’ -- to differentiate
themselves from other job seekers. We call it
uncovering your ‘unique promise of value.’”
Reilly believes employers are mostly
interested in what a person can offer and not
what the person is seeking from them. Therefore,
conversations around accommodations should
happen once someone receives an offer letter
and not during the interview process.
“The most common request,” continued
Reilly, “is for flexible working hours, as some
clients report difficulty with medications
or sleep issues. Our experience is that most
employers are very willing to provide a
‘reasonable accommodation,’ as long as the
essential functions of the job can still be
In addition to offering vocational training,
PRC offers counseling around earned income
while on disability benefits.
“For HIV-positive clients, understanding the
impact of earned income on disability benefits
is critical, and PRC offers a monthly workshop
on that topic,” Reilly said.
You can learn more about the Positive
Resource Center on the web at www.
For those living outside of the San Francisco
Bay Area, I encourage you to reach out to your
local agencies to see if they offer employment
services. Personally, I have received employment
services from many different agencies. Most
recently, I had the San Francisco LGBT Center
help me revise my resume. So, you may be
surprised by who in your area can help with
your job search.
Looking for work with a disability is hard,
but with the right support, it can become
Belo Cipriani is a freelance journalist, the award-winning author of Blind: A Memoir and
Midday Dreams, and a spokesperson for Guide Dogs for the Blind. He was voted “Best
Disability Advocate” in the Bay Area in 2015 by SF Weekly. Learn more at BeloCipriani.com .
Belo, riding in the SF Gay Pride Parade. Youtube.
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