Alex Knight eats, sleeps, lives, and breathes cruise travel. His passion for cruising has been a driving force in his life; each year, family vacations were spent on the high seas exploring destinations throughout the Caribbean. It’s during these trips that Alex took some serious notes. He’s curated an extensive knowledge and understanding of the industry from cruise schedules to shore excursions, ports and dining options. Alex is a virtual walking encyclopedia of all things cruise. He’s also a young man living with Lowe Syndrome.
As an infant Alex was diagnosed with Lowe Syndrome, a rare genetic condition that’s characterized by vision problems, kidney issues and intellectual disabilities. While Alex is legally blind and has some cognitive impairments, it doesn’t stop him, not one bit, especially when it comes to traveling. So it was no surprise when Alex graduated from high school that he wanted to channel his love of cruising into a career path.
Enter Work Opportunities Unlimited. “We believe that all people can work, that everyone has something to contribute,” says Michael Amons, a Career Resource Specialist with the company. Amons dedicates his days to breaking down barriers and opening the doors to community-based employment for people with disabilities. “Alex was referred to us right out of high school. He told us that he wanted to pursue a career in travel. We didn’t think that was too much to ask.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is more than double that of people without disabilities. “Work Opportunities wants to change that,” says Amons. “Our goal is to change the world of work. We operate from the premise that people with disabilities deserve to work independently in their communities, just like everybody else. Each and every day, we work to create opportunities for success in the workplace for job seekers like Alex. We also work in close partnership with employers that have staffing needs and are looking for skilled workers.”
“When Alex came to us, we helped him develop a career plan and a resume, we scoped out different opportunities for him and reached out to area employers,” says Amons. “Within four months of beginning his services with Work Opportunities Unlimited, his hard work paid off; Alex was introduced to the business that would change his life – Atlas Travel.”
For thirty years, Atlas Travel has provided business and vacation travelers with state-of-the-art travel solutions. It’s also a company that likes to be involved in its community. “We like to give back as much as we can,” says Elaine Osgood, CEO of Atlas Travel. “Work Opportunities contacted our HR department and the director brought the possibility to the executive team. When we heard about Alex and his passion for cruising, we were pretty intrigued. At the time, we weren’t looking to hire but we gave him a two-week trial, and to be honest, we were blown away.”
Alex works 20 hours a week as a Vacation and Cruise Support Agent. According to Osgood, he participates in all areas of the business but his primary task is quoting cruise prices for on-line customers. “The knowledge base that he has, as it relates to cruising, is truly amazing. The level of detail that he has at his disposal about all the different cruise lines, their destinations and what they offer, is absolutely phenomenal. Alex can tell us if a vending machine on-board a particular vessel sells Coke or Pepsi – he’s that good – so he’s an incredible resource for even our seasoned travel agents.”
“I’m so glad that we could partner with Atlas, to show them what Work Opportunities does and how committed we are to our clients,” says Amons. “This is a perfect job match for Alex. He’s working very hard and loving every minute of it, and while Work Opportunities is there to support Alex on the job each day, the real star in this story is Atlas Travel. They saw Alex’s potential and they gave him an opportunity to succeed and develop his abilities in an authentic way. For the first time in his life, Alex has been able to demonstrate that his knowledge and skills have value; that he can make a difference. The broader picture here, is that he’s a part of something larger than himself. Alex is integrated into the fabric of his community. He’s part of a team of people that he cares about – and that care about him – and he’s contributing in significant ways. From the Work Opportunities perspective; it doesn’t get much better than that.”