#InclusionWorks: National Disability Employment Awareness Month

This is what we know: Inclusion works. An inclusive workforce where people with disabilities work alongside their non-disabled peers benefits everyone. Individuals with disabilities benefit. Businesses benefit. And the community as a whole benefits.

That’s why we’re so dedicated to inclusive employment.

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and this year’s theme is #InclusionWorks. The entire month is aimed at educating about disability employment issues and celebrating the many contributions made by employees with disabilities.

Throughout October, we will share information about inclusive employment. You’ll be able to read about it here on our blog, on Keystone Human Services’ Facebook Page, and @Keystone_KHS on Twitter.

Please join us in sharing the message that #InclusionWorks.

The Importance of Connections in Customized Employment

In November, Melissa Holt shared her experiences finding a job through customized employment. In this guest blog post, Kaori Kelly, the employment specialist Melissa worked with, shares her thoughts.

If there was a theme of my work with Melissa to support her to find a job, it would be the importance of connections. When I started working with Melissa, she knew her strengths and she knew she wanted to work with computers. She had taken technology and computer classes at HACC, and she enjoys administrative work, especially with computers.

We visited many local offices and businesses, but none of them were the right fit for her. With customized employment, the person matches the job just the way they are, without needing to learn a new set of skills. Many of the offices and nonprofits either wanted a volunteer or were looking for someone with specialized skills.

Good connections are important, no matter who is looking for a job. Job development starts with social capital connections, so when Melissa didn’t find a job, we refocused on who we knew in the community. That’s when we hit the turning point.

Melissa and her family have been deeply involved with Special Olympics, so I met with the current program director, and through her, I met with the former program director, who was responsible for many of the connections Special Olympics has with community businesses. Through the former program director, I met the regional director of Keystone Apple, the company that operates Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill and Bar. As you can see, it really is all about a network of connections.

Keystone Apple’s regional director actually knew Melissa from Special Olympics when she volunteered at a veterans’ breakfast. I explained customized employment and he started brainstorming for both more community connections and possible positions with Applebee’s.

Although the administrative work at the restaurant is done by managers and supervisors, he came up with the idea of having Melissa start as a hostess, and he would then set aside some of his own administrative work for her to do. These ideas were great, but they brought up one of the challenges that employment specialists face. Businesses and people can be extremely supportive, so when they suggest something, you want to say, “Yes!” However, sometimes what they suggest is not a good fit for the person, and you really have to say, “Thank you, but no.”

The hostess position wasn’t really a good fit for Melissa, but she decided to try it anyway and she began a two-week internship. Ultimately, however, although the manager was willing to train her and Melissa really wanted to work there, it truly wasn’t the right fit, so she turned the job down.

(As a side note, during my discussions with Applebee’s, I realized there was another opportunity there that would be perfect for another person I was supporting. So even though our connections didn’t result in a job for Melissa, the other person did get hired.)

About two weeks later, I learned of an opportunity with DB Schenker that sounded like a good fit. They process technology products and Melissa would have to process the products, which involves multitasking and using a computer.

After taking a tour and talking with the business, she was hired. If you read her blog post, you’ll see how much she likes her job. Because she’s a dedicated employee, when her company experienced cutbacks, she was transferred to a new position in a different department.

Melissa’s story shows how important relationships are to finding a job. Everyone has connections that can make a difference, even if they only lead to more connections.

Is Self-Employment Right for You?

When we as a society think about employment for people with disabilities, we rarely think about self-employment. In fact, in can be difficult for anyone’s family and friends to imagine their family member or friend as an entrepreneur. Yet self-employment can be a wonderful opportunity for people with disabilities.

How do you know if self-employment is the right option for someone with a disability? How does anyone make the decision to become an entrepreneur or self-employed? Perhaps they want a flexible schedule or more control over their work. Maybe they like to take charge or maybe they have a driving passion for their work. During the discovery process, where a person explores their interests, skills, preferred environments, and ideal working conditions, certain factors may become evident to suggest that a person will benefit most from self-employment. Other times, the person will just fall into an opportunity that highlights their strongest skills.

Successful entrepreneurs are often people who like to be in control and like to schedule their own hours. They also have a passion for their particular business. And of course, they need to have good people skills to promote their business and network. However, it’s also important to keep in mind that few business owners, regardless of ability, do everything for their business. They typically delegate some responsibilities, whether it’s hiring an accountant or an employee. It’s important for the person’s circle of support to know that starting a business does not mean the person needs to do everything.

When we’re talking about self-employment, however, we’re talking about a person with a disability owning their own business in the community. We are not talking about a business run by a group of people with disabilities. There seems to be a trend in the media to highlight these types of group-run businesses. However, the problem is that businesses run by groups of people with disabilities still congregate people with disabilities in one spot rather than truly integrating them into the community among their non-disabled peers. In terms of the workforce, they are not part of the community. The ultimate goal is to create an integrated workforce, not a segregated one.

Keystone Human Services has supported several people to open their own small business. Because these entrepreneurs love what they are doing, they often develop new skills. For example, when they first open their business, they may only dress in business casual, but after a while, they may begin dressing as a business professional. For people who may have struggled to get out of bed in the morning, owning their own business provides the motivation to get up and go to work. They have a passion and something they love doing. And their businesses have grown.

Below are some resources for parents, providers, and people with disabilities who are interested in more information about starting a small business.



Making Self-Employment Work for People with Disabilities, Second Edition by Cary Griffin, David Hammis, Beth Keeton, Molly Sullivan

Team Effort: Residential and Employment Specialists

Inclusive employment is a team effort between the person, their parents, residential specialists, employment specialists, and businesses. In this blog post, we’re going to focus on teamwork between employment specialists and residential specialists.

The reality is that it’s not just the employment specialists that support someone to get a job. For people who live in a residential setting, the residential team plays an important role in maintaining successful employment.

One of the challenges to inclusive employment is the “getting ready to work” mindset. It’s the mindset that a person needs to accumulate certain skills before they can get a job. It’s the belief, for example, that they need to learn to shower and dress themselves before they can work. However, this mindset can put people with disabilities in a perpetual state of getting ready. The residential team plays an important role in changing this mindset from “getting ready” to “working.”

One of the biggest things residential specialists can do to promote employment is encourage the person to find a job they enjoy. Just like everyone else, it makes a big difference when the people around you, especially the people you see every day, believe in you and encourage you. That support will be reflected in your own attitude.

Good communication between the employment specialists and residential specialists is key, right down to seemingly insignificant details. Information such as whether a person is feeling well that morning may seem like a small thing from a residential standpoint, but it can have a huge impact on the person’s work day and how well they’re able to do their job.

Communication about holidays and schedules is also critical. On some holidays, such as Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the residential team and employment team might be off, but the person they support might still need to work. A business’s work schedule is not contingent on support staff’s schedules. If a person is scheduled to work, then they better show up for work, just like anyone else. It’s not optional. The teams still need to make sure the person gets to their job on time.

Which brings us to another potential challenge of customized employment: transportation. At Keystone Human Services, we’re fortunate that our residential services can provide transportation. Figuring out a transportation schedule can be a challenge, and there were bumps in the road, but our residential teams have been great at figuring things out. Staff adjusted their shifts. Some came in early. They’re willing to be flexible and change the residential schedule quickly when necessary so they can support the person in their job.

Teamwork is also essential to supporting the person themselves to change their mindset and adjust to life in the workforce. With the community-based system, people with disabilities are empowered to make their own choices, and the system as a whole has encouraged people that they don’t have to do anything they don’t want to do. After decades of an institutional model where people had no choices, this is certainly movement in a better direction. Our job is to support people to make informed choices, so they’re aware that while they have freedom of choice, there are consequences that go with those choices. Teams need to work together while the person learns how to make these informed decisions to maintain their employment.

Because ultimately, both the employment and residential staff want people to be excited to work. We all want people to find meaningful work. A job can open worlds of opportunity for people.


Systems Change: Is It Worth It?

Blog post by Erica Kishpaugh, Employment Services Director

Systems change is hard. It’s especially hard when the current system seemingly works. It takes a lot of dedicated people who share a vision to make it happen.

Pennsylvania and the rest of the United States are currently in the midst of moving from a system of day programs and sheltered workshops to a system promoting employment within a person’s community. It’s a movement from segregated settings to inclusive settings.

It’s easy to say sheltered workshops work. People have a place to go. They seem happy. They have “work.” But if we truly want to support people to have meaningful lives, valued roles, and access to all of the opportunities that anyone has access to, then we must ask ourselves: What does employment look like for the typical person?

No one would answer that question with “Employment looks like a day program or sheltered workshop.”

We would answer by saying that typical employment involves identifying your skills and interests, finding a position doing meaningful work, earning a paycheck, and receiving benefits.

Once we know what typical employment looks like, the question becomes: How do we make that happen for people with disabilities?

Keystone Human Services believes that all people can be contributing members of society, and employment is an important part of a person’s involvement in the community. Although some people may need more support than others, employment is a goal for all working-age youth and adults.

There are challenges to inclusive employment:

  • How do you harmonize the expectations of the business world with the regulations of the human services system?
  • How do you ensure parents are on board with inclusive employment for their child?
  • What if the person’s work schedule doesn’t match their family’s schedule or their residential employees’ schedule?

While these are challenges, they are not roadblocks, and we are working hard to support men and women to find and maintain meaningful work that matches their skills and interests. We will talk about these challenges in future blog posts.

Systems change is hard, but when people jump out of bed in the morning, shower, pack their lunch, and get ready to walk out the door 30 minutes before their ride to work arrives, we know systems change is worth it. When people are excited to go to work, to do something meaningful and make a contribution, and to earn a paycheck, we know it’s worth it.

I recently had a doctor’s appointment, and while waiting for the doctor, the medical technician mentioned that they wished the news stations would highlight people’s abilities instead of focusing on everything that’s wrong with the world. On my way back to work after my appointment, I thought, “Isn’t it great to have a job where I get to focus on people’s abilities?” I work alongside others who continuously encourage people to be the best they can be.

Assisting people to find employment is just that—focusing on their abilities, on what they can do, and assisting them to find the place where they can do it well while contributing to a business.

Just because someone has been unsuccessful in one situation does not mean they will be unsuccessful in another. After all, no one will be successful in every situation. For example, a person might thrive as a doctor working in a hospital, but take the same person and ask them to run a bakery, and they may be significantly less successful. It’s our job to provide support to assist a person with a disability to find the right job match which will ultimately lead to them being contributing members of the community.

It takes collaboration to make this happen. And remember, people with disabilities often have a history of being told what they can’t do. If you’ve been told all your life that you can’t work or that you can only work in a certain type of setting, it could be very hard to think of any other direction for your life. It’s especially hard when the people telling you “you can’t” are the people you love and look up to.

As we move forward with systems change, it’s important to keep a positive attitude about overcoming the barriers that hold people with disabilities back from showcasing their talents and skills while getting paid. Let’s focus on people’s abilities and create positive news!

When It Comes to Employment, Perseverance Pays Off

Guest blog post by Melissa Holt

I had been working at TJ Maxx for twelve years hanging clothes, but I was not happy there because it didn’t challenge me. In November 2011, I left and got a new job at Salvation Army. I worked at Salvation Army for three years, and I wasn’t happy there either because it didn’t challenge me. At Salvation Army, I was running racks with clothes.

For over a year, I worked with Kaori Kelly (an Employment Specialist for Keystone Human Services) trying to find an office job. We worked together to sharpen my skills with typing and using the computer because I hadn’t been using those skills for a long time. Kaori and I went to many interviews and looked at different places. Even though I wasn’t happy at Salvation Army, I was patient while Kaori looked at different places.

It was so frustrating doing a job where I was not happy because I went to HACC for four years for Office Technology and Computer Information Systems. I was not working with computers at my old job; I was working with clothes and that’s not what I went to school for.

Every time I went on an interview, I was hoping this would be the one. When I didn’t get it, I became frustrated, but I kept on working. It was hard trying to stay patient because it was taking so long.

In July 2015, Kaori and I went to DB Schenker for an interview and I got the job. I was so happy that I got that job. I started working at DB Schenker on July 31, 2015.  I am now working with phones and putting information on the computer. The wait may have been long and frustrating, but it was worth it! Now I’m doing something I really enjoy.

Melissa has been working with Kaori Kelly, one of Keystone Human Services’ Employment Specialists, to discover her interests and hone her skills. Through personal discovery and perseverance, Melissa found a job she enjoys.

“My Disability Is One Part of Who I Am”: National Disability Employment Awareness Month

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month.  Every October, the spotlight shines on raising awareness about inclusive employment and the many ways individuals with disabilities can make valuable contributions to the workforce. This year, the theme “My Disability Is One Part of Who I Am” focuses on the fact that disability is only one facet of a person.

Too often, individuals with disabilities become defined by their disability and that becomes the only thing people see. Once a person is seen as their disability, all sorts of limitations are imposed on them and their future can become very narrow. The positive roles of “employee” or “entrepreneur” seem unattainable.

But while an individual’s disability contributes to the person they are, it does not define them. People with disabilities are people whose lives are shaped by many different experiences, just like everyone else. And like people without disabilities, people with disabilities have skills and talents to bring to the workplace.

In her recent blog post, Jennifer Sheehy, the deputy assistant secretary of labor for disability employment, talks about her experiences as a person with a disability and why this year’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month theme is so significant.

Read Jennifer’s blog post