Minnetonka woman inspiration to others with disabilities

Local inspiration during National Disability Employment Month

MINNETONKA, Minn. -- October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. A Minnetonka woman is proving her disability won't stop her in the workplace.

Alyssa Duerre, 27, has Down syndrome. October is also Down Syndrome Awareness Month. Duerre works at Williston Fitness Center from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday as a facility attendant. She has had the job for about two years. Before that, she volunteered at the fitness center.

"I had just got back from vacation and somebody had called and said I got the job," Duerre said.

According to her managers, members frequently compliment Duerre's work.

"The community and the members are very receptive to Alyssa. She's very friendly and very positive and a hard worker," said Kristin Pimental, assistant manager at Williston Fitness Center.

Since 2010, Duerre has worked with the Minnetonka nonprofit, Opportunity Partners.

"The good news is that things are improving for people with disabilities and there's more of a focus on integrated community employment, like what Alyssa has. But the bad news is there's still a lot of work to be done and unemployment rates for people with disabilities are still very, very high," said Julie Peters, communications director of Opportunity Partners.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 17.5 percent of people with disabilities were employed in 2015 in contrast to the 65 percent of people without a disability who were employed. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities was 10.7 percent in 2015--about twice as much as those without a disability.

In the past three years, Opportunity Partners has helped about 400 people find jobs.

"Just like anybody else wants to have variety in what kinds of jobs you do and you want to have choice, people with disabilities are no different. They want to have choices, they want to give back to their community and they want to make a difference," Peters said.

Peters hopes more employers take an interest in hiring people with disabilities. You can find out more information on their website.


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