Local tour highlights workers with disabilities, employers

Coltin Mooney loves his job washing towels at Miracle Car Wash on Holliday Drive in Dubuque.

Mooney, of Dubuque, is nonverbal. He found his job with the help of staff at Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services’ Dubuque office and works at the car wash with the assistance of a Hills & Dales job coach.

“Everybody loves Coltin,” said Jason Rubel, supervisor at the Dubuque office of Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services, which provides employment services to people with disabilities. “He has grown so much — behaviorally, emotionally. He got out of school, and there wasn’t much for him to do. He needed some purpose, and he’s got some now.”

Miracle Car Wash was one of three stops on a tour of local businesses Thursday to mark National Disability Employment Awareness Month. About 20 area business officials and Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services staff took the tour, which stopped at businesses that have hired many candidates from the Dubuque office.

“We try to promote events through all of our offices across the state each year to promote individuals with disabilities, and the issues surrounding unemployment with individuals with disabilities, and the benefits of hiring people with disabilities in people’s workforce,” Rubel said. “… There is a person with a disability out there that can do every job.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 19.1% of people with disabilities were employed last year, up from 17.9% in 2020.

In addition to Miracle Car Wash, Thursday’s tour stopped at the food services department at University of Dubuque and the Amazon delivery facility at 7200 Chavenelle Road.

“I definitely want to see how (other businesses) work with their clients to make accommodations in the workplace,” said Karen Smith, human resources manager with Simmons Pet Food, who was on the tour. “It’s a nice resource to the community to have Vocational Rehabilitation Services. They’re great partners. It helps strengthen the workforce to have people with different abilities.”

At Amazon, managers Max Flynn and Rob Gruber gave a tour of the warehouse facility, where more than 1 million packages have gone out since it opened in January.

The pair highlighted Amazon Flex, which allows drivers to use their own vehicle to deliver packages. They noted that drivers can be accompanied by a passenger on routes as well.

They also spoke of Amazon’s accommodations department, which helps new employees get needed accommodations in place before they begin their job.

Gruber recalled one former employee who was deaf who benefitted from those services.

“Amazon had a translator on site for his orientation,” he said. “Then, we had a computer program set up that could translate for them as people spoke. It worked really well every day.”

Liz Kass, human resources manager at ProPulse in Peosta, Iowa, was on the tour and said it was good to see how other businesses offer accommodations.

“We’re always looking to work with a variety of candidates,” she said. “With the (COVID-19) pandemic, we’ve been hard up for applicants. It’s nice to be able to offer positions to anyone.”

Rubel also noted that the first Amazon driver at the Dubuque facility was a client of Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services. Multiple clients also have gone to Miracle Car Wash, and three work there currently.

Doug Tonn, owner of Miracle Car Wash, said Mooney’s job washing towels makes things run more efficiently, especially on busy days.

“I don’t have to have someone who should be washing cars washing towels,” he said. “It’s been great. Everybody knows Coltin. He definitely is (part of the team).”