Kevin Diaz

People with disabilities face many challenges throughout their lives, including quality employment opportunities. Individuals with criminal convictions also experience a variety of challenges, specifically access to employment opportunities. But for Kevin Diaz, who not only has past criminal convictions, but a spinal cord injury sustained from a gunshot wound in December 2019, getting a chance, much less a second chance at employment, was a frustration he experienced regularly. But with the help of The Illinois Department of Human Services, Division of Rehabilitation Services (IDHS-DRS) and the Chicago based employer, The Bazaar, a second chance is exactly what he received.

Kevin's recovery following his spinal cord injury involved ongoing visits to medical professionals, and intensive rehabilitation. He was also referred to the social security administration to apply for medical and financial benefits. While applying for Social Security Disability, Kevin was provided information about how services provided through IDHS-DRS can help individuals with disabilities find and maintain competitive integrated employment and live a dignified life. Kevin contacted IDHS-DRS, and connected with a Rehabilitation Counselor, and together started to work on a suitable employment goal. They also incorporated the assistance of Envision, a community partner who specialized in job exploration and placement.

As Kevin began to work towards a better-quality life, he still experienced challenges and disappointments related to his disability and past criminal convictions. Some employers felt skeptical of his criminal convictions while others perceived his use of a wheelchair as being unable to do the functions of the job. He also felt he was getting rejected for work because of his facial tattoos. This left Kevin feeling very dispirited of his employment prospects and was beginning to give up. He added, "I felt very dejected and also discriminated and began to question my abilities seeing no one was willing to event interview me. It was hard and I was wondering whether I would ever work again."

Kevin's counselor then decided to contact a Business Consultant in the IDHS-DRS Workforce Development Unit. The Workforce Development Unit helps businesses to advance disability hiring and fulfill their workforce needs by providing job ready, talented candidates, like Kevin. One such employer, The Bazaar, located in River Grove, outside of Chicago seemed to be the perfect place to start. The Bazaar has made diversity and inclusion, and second chances for marginalized individuals, a company goal.

Kevin was referred to the Bazaar in September, where he met HR Coordinator Walt Johnson, who is also a wheelchair user. Instead of a traditional job interview, Kevin completed a working interview with Walt, which focuses more on assessing an individual's skills and talents. Kevin's takeaway from the interview was one of excitement and connection. Kevin states, "I felt great about the place as soon as I entered the building. My DRS team told me they were an inclusive employer and it showed right from the beginning. They had welcoming signs for job seekers of all backgrounds, and the guy [Walt] interviewing me and giving me a tour of the facility was also someone in a wheelchair. I walked out of the interview with a renewed sense of hope and felt good about my prospects."

A few weeks after the interview, Kevin was offered a part-time position working as a Material Handler. The Bazaar staff was so happy with his work that just a short time later his position was elevated to full-time. The Bazaar's Director of Employee Engagement Garett Rosiek stated, "Kevin displayed all the intangibles that are needed to do a good job at work. He exhibited time and task management skills, communication skills (advocating for himself), problem-solving, and could follow instructions… We knew he just needed an opportunity. During his interview, he could do the different tasks assigned to him and he is bi-lingual which is very important with the department he was working in. He is a great team player and elevates other employees around him. In addition, we wanted to upskill Kevin and put him full-time because he was producing at the same rate as other employees who do not have disabilities. If I could hire 5 for Kevin's - I would in a heartbeat."

Kevin is very satisfied with his employment and is even considering enrolling in college courses. Says Kevin, "It's like a fresh start again. Now that I have exceled at work, I feel I can do more and have thought about enrolling in college to further my career. I want to encourage others like me to not give feel discouraged and focus on your potential."

For Kevin, this was a chance worth pursuing; for The Bazaar, this was a second chance worth taking.

DHS's Division of Rehabilitation Services is the state's lead agency serving individuals with disabilities. DRS works in partnership with people with disabilities and their families to assist them in making informed choices to achieve full community participation through employment, education, and independent living opportunities.

To learn more, call 1-877-761-9780 Voice, 1-866-264-2149 TTY, (312) 957-4881 VP, read about DRS Services, or Apply Online.