Developing Vision

Post by Rebecca Longa, Supported Employment Coordinator with Keystone Human Services Intellectual Disabilities Services

Vision is one of the guiding forces in what we do in customized employment. Vision is necessary to see a future and plan how to get there. It means seeing creative and innovative employment processes and options for individuals with disabilities when typical processes and options would prevent an individual from finding employment.

The customized employment process starts by keeping vision broad and focusing on themes instead of jobs. For example, by following the customized employment process, you would focus on the theme of fashion and beauty rather than specific jobs like hair stylist, nail technician, clothing retailer, tailor, etc.

As the process continues, employment specialists think outside the box for employment opportunities. They look for ways to benefit businesses by restructuring jobs or creating a position to fill a need the business has.

Having vision is important as an employment specialist, but how do you inspire vision in others?

I was recently reminded about the importance of helping the individuals we support and their families to have vision. One gentleman recently completed a seasonal position, and we were discussing which direction he wanted to take his employment search. He explained that he would like a steady job so he could save for commercial driver’s license (CDL) training. He further explained that he would like to gain experience and become an independent contractor.

He proceeded to research schooling options not only for CDL training, but also for business training. I was impressed by his foresight and planning for the future. He had a vision, an idea of where he wanted his job experience to take him, and it made me aware of assisting other individuals to develop a similar vision.

In addition, it’s important to help family and members of the support team to have a vision for an individual, too. They need to see beyond the stereotypical positions for individuals with disabilities, such as cleaning, collecting carts, filling condiment stations, etc. Individuals truly have a chance for future growth when everyone in their support circle can envision a fully inclusive, productive future.

Employment specialists also work with employers and help them develop vision for both the individual and their business. Businesses can greatly benefit from employing people with disabilities. Sometimes it’s just a matter of discovering what needs the business has and how that individual can meet them. Sometimes existing jobs can be restructured to include a person with a disability, allowing both the person with the disability and other employees to maximize their best skills.

Vision and the creativity to think outside the box are essential for developing a more inclusive workforce and a more inclusive community. After all, vision is about working with a clear sight for the future.

Everyone Benefits through Customized Employment

People with disabilities, even significant disabilities, can and do make valuable contributions to the workforce. According to a 2013 Manpower Group Survey, 35% of employers are unable to fill jobs because of a talent shortage, and yet persons with disabilities are often excluded from the talent pool.

Erica Kishpaugh, the co-chair of our Employment Committee, recently participated in a conference call through the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) on inclusive employment and diversifying the workforce. Keystone Human Services has made a Commitment to Action through CGI on “Disabilities: Social and Financial Inclusion for Women and Girls.” As part of this Commitment, Keystone is supporting the rights of women with disabilities to access employment, education, vocation training opportunities.

Through customized employment, persons with disabilities who may be viewed as “unemployable” can make valuable contributions to businesses. “Employment is the great equalizer,” said Michael McAllister, who was the co-founder and executive director of Networks for Training and Development and a powerful advocate for inclusive employment. “When people are employed, earning money, working side-by-side with others, many of the issues that separate people simply go away.”

Fundamental to a customized approach is the understanding that each person is unique. Each person has skills they can bring to the table and give value to a business, even if they may not be able to speak or physically complete a time sheet.

Through the customized employment process, we work with each person and business to highlight those skills and attributes. The important things to remember, though, is that finding a job for someone with  disability is the same as finding a job for someone without a disability. Just like with anyone else, it’s important to learn what skills and tasks a person does well, and in what conditions they are most productive. We also learn about the person’s interests, because just like anyone else, they will be more engaged in their work if they like what they’re doing.

When it’s time to reach out to businesses, it’s all about who you know. We network. Think about how you got your first job. Most likely, you knew someone who knew someone who knew of a job opening—and that’s how you got the job. It’s no different for a person with a disability.

We look for businesses that will be a good match, where the tasks of the job align with the person’s skills and personal attributes to make a valuable contribution to the company. Sometimes, the company will analyze the various tasks performed by their current employees and reconfigure a selection of these tasks into a new customized job. In fact, the company may actually save money and become more productive by hiring a person with a disability. Both the person and the company benefit.

Everyone has something of value to contribute to a business. Customized employment is one way to discover those skills and turn them into actions to the benefit of both the person and the business.

Rhode Island’s Groundbreaking Agreement to Move Toward Inclusive Employment

Last week, Rhode Island and the Justice Department came to a groundbreaking agreement to reform the system of sheltered workshops and day programs for people with disabilities. The agreement includes minimum wage guarantees and opportunities for competitive employment, among others. You can read the article from the New York Times here and read a wonderful editorial from the NYT editorial board here. Over the next 10 years, Rhode Island will be working to integrate people with disabilities into the workforce.

Under the agreement, Rhode Island will be moving people out of the sheltered workshops, where many people perform menial tasks such as sorting small items—tasks that do little to showcase their actual abilities. Sheltered workshops were not originally started to segregate people with disabilities from the rest of the workforce. Often, they began because parents felt their children were capable of more and just needed a place to learn skills to help them transition to competitive employment. Although sheltered workshops may have worked successfully for some people, a majority simply ended up segregated from the rest of the community.

This change to an inclusive employment model will involve a shift in the way many people think about people with disabilities and their ability to work. Rather than focusing on what they can’t do, it will drive people to think about theirabilities and the ways they can contribute to the workforce. People with disabilities can and do make valuable contributions to the workforce.

Inclusive employment opens up many possibilities for people’s lives. They’re working, earning a paycheck, making a positive contribution, building friendships. All of this takes time, and it can be difficult to see the possibilities of integration when you aren’t seeing immediate results. It’s important for family members to know that their loved ones are not losing services through sheltered workshops. They will benefit from inclusive employment and all the possibilities it opens.

We are excited to see how these changes unfold in Rhode Island and how this model is then applied in other states.

More Information about Integrated Employment

The Office of Disability Employment Policy and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services held two webinars in February about integrated employment:

What More Can I Do?

There are times when everyone says that they can’t do any more for the person they’re supporting than they’re already doing. But what if we didn’t limit ourselves to what we think we can do? What if we tried just a little bit more? When one avenue doesn’t work, try another way.

Brad was going through a lot of transition. He was moving from school to work, moving to a new residence, and living in a new area. Things didn’t go well at first. After looking at several alternative options, Brad decided he wanted to stay at his current residence.

The staff supporting him wanted his experience to be a successful one. He was bored at the workshop and wanted a job, so he stopped attending his workshop. The staff supporting him began helping him fill out applications for jobs. Together, they completed 40-50 applications in three months.

While they didn’t have any luck finding a job, they helped Brad maintain a positive outlook. They tried another way. They offered volunteering as an alternative. At first, he said he wasn’t interested. Later, he decided to give it a try.

Brad began working at an equestrian farm, caring for the horses and assisting the riders. He also began working at a local senior center. Throughout all of this, his staff was transporting him to these locations, waited while he completed his responsibilities, and then drove him home.

Since he has done such a good job at the senior center, they have told Brad that if a job opens up, they would like to offer him a job. Brad’s confidence and feelings of self-worth have increased. His smile shines when you ask him about his jobs.

The team at his residence could have let him sit at home all day. They could have said that that’s as much as they could do for Brad when he stopped attending the workshop. Instead, they supported him in his ambition. While Brad hasn’t found a job yet, he’s well on his way because the people supporting him believed they could do more. And they did!