Associated Press

May 4, 1997

AIDS Patients Seek New Futures

ATLANTA (AP) -- Career coach Al Stewart stands before a classroom of people seeking to reenter the corporate world and earnestly advises deception.

Don't tell them why you left your original job. Don't ask too many questions about health benefits. Don't tell them you have AIDS.

With a declining mortality rate and stunningly successful new medical regimes indicating that AIDS may no longer amount to a certain death sentence, people living with the disease face a new predicament: What next?

The classes offered at AID Atlanta, called ``Reconstruction,'' are part of a novel approach toward the changing epidemic. Like many such social service agencies, AID Atlanta has been more a caretaker than a career counselor. Now, it hands out classified ads along with the condoms.

The classes have titles such as ``Designing Your Financial Future, Now That You Have One.''

Lining tables in each class are booklets with advice on getting insurance and keeping it, lists of job openings and businesses that hire people with AIDS, ways to earn money until the good job comes along.

Tonight's topic is job hunting, and Stewart is peppered with questions: How do you explain a three-year gap on a resume? How do you find out about health benefits? How do you tell them you might have to leave again?

Tell them Mom died, Stewart suggests. Or that you tried to write that book you always dreamed about. Or that you went into business for yourself. In other words, nothing that can be verified.

Federal law forbids employers from asking potential employees about a medical condition. Bosses may fire employees for lying, but they must first prove the company has a longstanding policy of firing liars.

Neru Parker, a commercial real-estate agent in Atlanta until learning in 1988 he had the AIDS virus, came to the class ready to return to work. But when he leaves, he is unwilling to lie.

Word of Atlanta's program is spreading. This month, King will pitch ``Reconstruction'' to the National AIDS Fund, a grant-writing organization in Washington, D.C.

Not everyone is ready for them.

AIDS is different than most diseases, says Los Angeles psychologist Adam Chidekel.