Always clean and perfectly pressed, Eddie Mrkvicka’s McDonald’s uniform gave him the same sense of pride that a sailor might feel in his dress blues.

The 38-year-old from Marengo more recently was employed at a rehab facility in Woodstock, but like many in the rocky economy of recent years, he lost his job to cutbacks.

Mrkvicka, however, is not like the majority of unemployed U.S. workers. He has a controlled seizure disorder, suffers from adult attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, and has learning disabilities and Asperger syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism that affects a person’s social interaction skills.

That puts Mrkvicka among a population of Americans that suffers disproportionately when tough economic times force job losses – both emotionally and in sheer number.

“At the risk of overstating it, [Eddie’s job] was kind of a lifesaver for him,” said his father, Ed Mrkvicka.

Individuals with disabilities have the highest unemployment rate of any minority group in the country. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest data show that in 2010, people with disabilities were unemployed at a rate of 14.8 percent. The current national unemployment rate is 8.5 percent.

“These kids are the last to be hired and the first to be fired in tough economic times,” Mrkvicka’s father said.

Many of those “kids” are like Eddie, who is unable to comprehend why he was let go and often asks his father when he can start working again.

“He was getting the minimum wage. At best it was a push monetarily, but that wasn’t the point,” the elder Mrkvicka said. “It gave him purpose. It was the focus of his life. He had something to do. People needed him.”

Workers with disabilities can be dedicated and hardworking. And they can take it especially hard when things don’t go as planned.

“Most people with disabilities are so thrilled to have a job, to have somewhere to go,” said Cindy Sullivan, executive director at Options and Advocacy of McHenry County. “It gives life a meaning every day and helps them feel part of a community. Often those workers are the happiest person to be there, just having a job and doing a job.”

Options and Advocacy is funded by the Illinois Department of Human Services Division of Developmental Disabilities. It refers individuals with disabilities to appropriate agencies, among other services.

The state’s Division of Rehabilitation Services is the state agency serving individuals with disabilities to help them achieve full community participation. The closest office is in Elgin.

Eddie goes to Pioneer Center for Human Services in McHenry three times a week to learn job skills such as résumé-writing, interviewing techniques, and how to complete applications. When Eddie finds a job, a Pioneer Center job coach will be there along the way.

The local DRS office is similar by helping people with disabilities to find work. They too employ job coaches for these workers. The idea, Sullivan said, is that the job coaches eventually will be pulled back.

Under the McHenry County Special Education District, Education and Careers of McHenry County also works to put individuals with disabilities, up to 22 years old, into the workforce.

Take 20-year-old Rosie Dietz. ECMC helped her secure a part-time job cleaning up around the Pound Bakery in Harvard, where she makes minimum wage.

Pound Bakery owner Kurt Stricker hired Dietz at his dog treat bakery in March. Show up a minute before 9 a.m. or a minute after noon and you’ll miss Rosie. That’s because she’s always on time for her two-day-a-week, three-hour shift.

“She’s a delight to have around here,” Stricker said. “She loses focus sometimes, but she’s fun.”

Those who hire disabled workers are for the first year eligible for tax credits up to $6,000. Those who offer 120 hours a year to workers with disabilities can receive 25 percent of those taxes they paid on the employee back; or 40 percent if they offer 400 hours a year.

All stereotypes and stigmas aside, some employers may be put off by accommodations they may be asked to make for a disabled employee, said Jason Riney, job developer and placement facilitator at Education and Careers. The average accommodation is about $600, he said, but added that “one-third of reasonable accommodations do not cost the employer a penny.”

“I think employers at times think they need to lower their expectations, but what they fail to realize is that we hold these students to the same standards and expectations that workers without disabilities have,” he said.

Accommodations can be as simple as having a specialized chair for the worker to sit on while taking money. It could also mean reorganizing shelves so a person in a wheelchair can reach some items, or offering a quick meal break for a diabetic. These types of accommodations also can be written off on one’s taxes.

But unemployed individuals with disabilities echo sentiments similar to those of all job seekers: With the economy as it is, there are too few jobs and too many applicants.

“There are virtually no jobs and nobody will talk to us,” Mrkvicka said. “I understand, but my frustration is that I know what Eddie can do. I know what some of these other kids can do. If somebody would only give them a chance, they won’t be disappointed.”

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