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Abled

Posted by Ralph Ranalli October 11, 2007 10:37 AM

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Once a mechanic, Brian Smith of Framingham now works as an auto appraiser.
(Globe staff photo by Bill Polo)

REGION

After surgeons installed two mechanical valves to repair his congenital heart defect, Brian Smith knew he had seen the end of his grease-monkey days. Heavy lifting was out of the question, and he had to avoid sharp objects because his new blood-thinning medication made cuts potentially disastrous.

Unable to work at his former job as a mechanic at a Framingham car dealership, Smith went on Social Security for a few years. By 2002, he had recovered and, no longer qualifying for public assistance, was told to get a job, Globe West correspondent John Dyer reports today.

"They were telling me I could go back to work, but they all agreed I couldn't do what I used to do," said the 49-year-old Bellingham resident. "They were thinking about me selling movie tickets. But I have two kids. I wasn't going to go back to a job for minimum wage."

After a four-year job search, his first in decades, Smith received training in a state program and landed a position as an automobile appraiser for a Mendon company. Now he's a proud earner.

Smith's happy ending is the exception, not the rule. Across the state, disabled people and their advocates say that while progress is being made in putting the disabled onto payrolls, most are still unemployed.

The gap between disabled people and the help they need leaves a hole in the region's economy, in the form of an untapped workforce, they say. Although the Massachusetts unemployment rate is hovering between 4 and 5 percent overall, around 70 percent of the state's approximately 550,000 disabled residents older than 18 don't work, said Charles Carr, commissioner of the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission, the agency that helped retrain Smith.

Read more about how the disabled are being retrained to work in the online edition of today's Globe West.

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