• Laura Minutello

For North Florida Sisters, Employment Requires Trust and Flexibility

FSACentral is proud to once again celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month by featuring people with disabilities who are out in the workforce.

Two women with blonde hair standing in front of a pencil drawing of themselves hanging on the wall. The women are wearing work smocks identifying them as Publix employees.
Left to right: Karen Kirby and Kim Kirby

Self-advocates, sisters, and FL SAND members, Karen and Kim Kirby, share their successes with supported employment.


Living independently and working at Publix and Wal-Mart respectively, Kim and Karen both describe their jobs as enjoyable, and hope their employment experiences encourage other self-advocates toward exploring the support and employment options available to them. The sisters are also active members of FL SAND's Clay County Change Makers group in North Florida. FL SAND is grateful to Karen and Kim for sharing with all of us.


Name: Karen and Kim Kirby

Hometown: Valdosta and Adel, Georgia, originally. Currently live in Fleming Island, Florida

Employer: Karen: Wal-Mart, formerly Publix / Kim: Publix

Position: Karen: maintenance staff (Wal-Mart) / Kim: bagging groceries, assisting customers to their cars (Publix)

Length of time at current job: Karen: 2 years at Wal-Mart, where she moved for increased pay and hours, after 9 years at Publix / Kim: 10 years at Publix

What is the best advice or encouragement you’d give to a fellow self-advocate about accessing or keeping employment?

Kim: Don’t be afraid to reach out for help when looking for a job.

Karen: Once you have a job, it might take some time but employers and people you work with will get to know you better.

What advice would you give employers about hiring a person with a disability?

Kim: There are a lot of benefits. People with disabilities can do a lot of things, and it’s good for the whole community.

Karen: We are honest employees!

What’s the most significant employment-related challenge you face as a person with a disability?

Karen: Trusting employers can be hard sometimes. Also, being flexible. But, you learn things and new skills, even in times when it’s hard.

Kim: Hearing criticism--but you have to be able to overcome that to make it in the workplace and world.

How should we be advocating for better employment opportunities and practices in Florida?

Karen and Kim agreed that we should be advocating for more access to job coaches and other things (services) that help people with disabilities get and keep jobs.


Which agency was the most helpful to you in accessing and maintaining employment?

Karen and Kim agreed it was Vocational Rehabilitation and their job coaches. For Karen, it was her job coach that encouraged her to move to Wal-Mart where she makes more money.

In your opinion, how does employing a person with a disability help their quality of life?

Kim: It’s good to know that you do something valuable in your day. It makes you feel good to help others.

Karen: It gives you more money, so you can do more things that you want to do.


FSACentral would like to thank the Kirbys for their time and thoughtful answers.

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Florida Self-Advocacy Central is the news and information arm of Florida Self-Advocates Network'D or FL SAND

FL SAND and Florida Self-Advocacy Central are projects provided by the Florida Developmental Disabilities Council, Inc., supported in part by grant numbers 1901FLSCDD-01 and 2001FLSCDD-01 from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects with government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official ACL policy.