FARMINGTON — New Mexico's unemployment rate is almost 7 percent, but for residents with disabilities, the 2011 unemployment rate was about 35 percent.
That's according to figures from Bureau of Labor Statistics and Cornell University's Disability Statistics.
People with disabilities seeking jobs in Farmington have little help, said Pruda Trujillo, Arc of San Juan County board member.
"Nobody really knows about them," she said.
On Wednesday, Trujillo and other disability educators taught a class in the San Juan Center for Independence to 10 people with disabilities. The goal of the class is two-pronged, she said. One objective is to expose people with disabilities to the workforce, and the other, she said, is to expose the public to people with disabilities.
The class was the third of four. The next — scheduled for April 4 — will be a fashion show to help students learn how to "dress for success," Trujillo said.
The Arc of San Juan County, a nonprofit group dedicated to advocating and supporting people with disabilities, offers the classes. In October the organization received a roughly $2,300 grant from BHP Billiton. Trujillo said the money helps run the classes and other job placement efforts.
During Wednesday's class, Trujillo and Julie Bisbee, a speech language pathologist, acted out mock job interviews, pausing to highlight good behavior and ask students questions.
"And then the other question is why should I hire you?" said Trujillo, playing the role of an employer. She pointed to a woman sitting in wheelchair, and asked, "Why should I hire you?"
The woman smiled and said, "Because I'm honest."
Later in the class the woman, 33-year-old Meranda Velasquez, rolled outside into the hall. She said her mom signed her up for the classes, and now she wants a job working with children or babies.
"I love little kids," she said.
She has three nephews and enjoys giving them rides in her lap in her wheelchair. She said she could give children rides at one of the many local day cares or nurseries.
"I think I can do it," she said.
Employment is important, Trujillo said. When people with disabilities — and people without — sit at home unemployed they lose job-specific and social skills, she said. But when working, she said, they hone those skills and meet and talk with new people.
A job is important for anyone's self-esteem and identity, she said.
"It just makes us feel like we have something to give back," she said.
She wants all her students to get jobs eventually because each of them can, she said. Velasquez, for example, could certainly work in child care. And her son, who is also disabled, vacuums rooms at the Marriot and volunteers at the Fitness Center.
"They have value. All people have value," Trujillo said, "They're more like us than not like us."