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Program To Help Epileptics Find, Keep Jobs

A new program could help people with epilepsy find and keep jobs.

With the assistance of a $350,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, the Epilepsy Foundation of America is launching a three-year experiment, called JobTech, at its affiliates in Camden, N.J., Mobile, Ala., Rockford, Ill. and Kansas City, Mo.

The program will prepare epileptics for a variety of jobs, including computer programming, systems analysis, sales and customer service, process control operations and other positions that call for computer skills. Advocates also will help place people.

“It will be a truly proactive program where people will go out to employers, establish relationships and actively place people in positions,” says Peter Van Haverbeke, a spokesman for the Epilepsy Foundation in Washington, D.C.

JobTech may be expanded to other Epilepsy Foundation affiliates around the country, depending on its success, he says.

Despite major advances in the treatment of epilepsy, the condition still scares potential employers. They fear everything from worker safety and liability risks to higher insurance costs, absenteeism, stress-induced seizures and other costly problems, he says.

The JobTech program will correct misconceptions among employers and co-workers about the disorder, says Victor Verni, executive director of the Epilepsy Foundation of North/Central Illinois.

“We have to show employers that the person with epilepsy can do a job just as well and show up just as often as anyone else,” he says.

“Typically, when we talk to employers, and they say, ‘Can you give me assurance that they’ll be here every day,’ we say, ‘just as much as you can promise that another employee won’t have a heart attack tomorrow.’ Neither one of us knows what the next day is going to bring,” he says.

Verni says dozens of new medications slow seizure frequency for many epileptics.

But because employers’ misconceptions make many take jobs below their education and ability levels, the average lifetime earnings among epileptics are well below the national average, he says.

Van Haverbeke says the JobTech program should change that.

“The important thing about this program is that it is not a handout for people with epilepsy. It’s intended to be a business solution and to fill a need that’s out there and to see that individuals have the skills to fill the needs for the jobs that they are recommended for,” Van Haverbeke says.

What To Do

Visit the Epilepsy Foundation for more information on the disorder.

And the Epilepsy Education Association has information on workplace issues.

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