The first few times Ryan Cenk applied for a job, prospective employers turned him down because of something he can’t control: his left hand.
“It made me kind of sad, but it also made me feel like, ‘Well, you’re missing out on a good employee,’ ” said Cenk, 20, of Gibsonia.
Cenk has weak mobility across much of the left side of his body, a limitation that stems from having part of a brain tumor removed when he was 3 years old. The Pine-Richland High School graduate walks cautiously and with a slight limp because radiation treatments he underwent as a child severely weakened his left leg.
In recent months, Cenk has built a reputation as one of the friendliest and most reliable cashiers at Giant Eagle’s Pine Creek Shopping Center supermarket in McCandless. He says employers should recognize that a minor accommodation — in his case, a tilt-screen cash register he can operate with one hand — is a worthwhile investment for a good hire.
Twenty-five years after President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disability Act, flanked by former Pennsylvania Gov. Dick Thornburgh, advocates for people with disabilities peg employment as an area in which not enough progress has been made.
“We have a long way to go,” former Gov. Tom Ridge said during a speech at the University of Pittsburgh in March. Ridge wears a hearing aid. “These are men and women that would be great employees; they just need a chance.”
The first of a two-day National Council on Disability meeting opened Monday at the university’s William Pitt Student Union, the first time the body has met in Pennsylvania. Discussion about how to increase the number of people with disabilities in the workforce dominated the afternoon portion.
In Pennsylvania, about 34 percent of people with disabilities are employed, compared with three-quarters of the able-bodied workforce, state data show.