#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.

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.


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

Real Jobs with Real Wages for People with Disabilities

People with disabilities can and do make valuable contributions to the workforce. We’ve said it many times on this blog. Work is the great equalizer, and people with disabilities have proven to be loyal, hardworking employees who positively affect businesses’ bottom lines.

Employment First is a movement based on the idea that employment is the first priority and the preferred outcome for people with disabilities. In other words, everyone is capable of contributing to the workforce and should have the opportunity for inclusive employment. We’re talking about real jobs with real wages, not piecemeal work in a sheltered workshop.

An important part of supporting people to find and maintain competitive employment is supporting them within their own communities. Genni Sasnett, an Employment First State Leadership Mentoring Program National Subject Matter Expert, recently wrote a blog post about the need to “think globally and work locally.” She discusses the decentralization of supported employment services and the movement toward supporting people to live and work within their own communities.

Read her article Think Globally—Work Locally to learn more about this decentralization movement and the progress of inclusive employment.

Do You Believe the Myths?

Myth: People experiencing disabilities, whether visible or invisible, are not able to be productive, contributing members of the workforce. They have a low attendance record and are usually late.

Reality: People with disabilities can and are productive members of the workforce. In fact, that’s the very reason why they are employed! Sometimes a person’s disability makes them uniquely qualified for a position.

Susan works as a Peer Specialist, supporting people in recovery from mental illness to build their skills, manage their mental health, and continue on the path to recovery. “Having a disability helps me do my job better than if I didn’t have one,” said Susan. “My differences give me insight into what other people struggle with and gives me the possibility of being able to help them through my knowledge.”

Once people with disabilities are hired, they often have an above average attendance rate, as well as their performance. Industry reports have found that workers with disabilities do their jobs just as well or even better than their non-disabled coworkers.

Myth: People with disabilities don’t have the same cultural need to be recognized for a job well done, or to have their self-worth and self-esteem fulfilled.

Reality: People with disabilities have the same needs to be recognized for their hard work as anyone else. Just like anyone else, receiving praise for a job well done boosts their self-esteem and contributes to their sense of self-worth.

When Amber, whose disability had prevented her from working for a while, transitioned back into the workforce, she said, “Working gave my life a direction and a purpose. I had a reason to get up in the morning and people who benefited and depended on the contributions I made at my job.”

Myth: People with disabilities don’t want to work. They want to be dependent on “the system.” They don’t want to leave the house, earn a decent wage, go shopping, go to the movies, or have fun at an amusement park.

Reality: People with disabilities want to work just as much as anyone else. They want to have full lives—going to school, working, having a family, grocery shopping, going to the movies, attending sporting events, etc.

Before Susan, a Peer Specialist, took the steps to find a job, she had secluded herself in her bedroom, becoming a recluse. Then one day, she told herself that she was wasting her life, preventing herself from having lots of experiences, and giving up too much of her life to something that was in her power to change.

“Since I decided to get a job,” she said, “my life has been more fulfilling than it was before my illness began. My job gives me the opportunity to help people get out into the community. I model behavior that will help the person feel more comfortable going into the community by themselves.”

Myth: Other people can’t work alongside people with disabilities because they’re different. They can’t do their job, take too much time to manage, and will do or say the wrong thing.

Reality: Employing people with disabilities promotes diversity in the workplace, which has a positive effect on all workers. When Keystone works with businesses to find employment for an individual, our goal is to make sure that both the business and the person will benefit. As required under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), businesses must make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities, but the person must still be qualified for the position in order to be hired.

John Hollenbach, the general manager of United Water Pennsylvania, said “Having Ron a part of United Water ranks right up there as one of the highlights of my 34-year career with the company. He looks forward to coming into work each day and has earned the respect and admiration of our employees.”

Below are more links with information dispelling the myths about people with disabilities in the workforce. It’s worth checking them out to see how inclusive employment is a win-win for everyone.