Is Inclusive Employment Worth It?

Post by Erica Kishpaugh, Employment Services Director in the Central Region of Keystone Human Services Intellectual Disabilities Services

Is it worth it? Is inclusive employment worth all the system changes it requires? Is it worth figuring out how to support people who get jobs for only 4, 15, or 27 hours a week?

Is it worth figuring out how to get people to those jobs when they depend on others for transportation? Providing transportation is challenging enough but especially when it’s five degrees out!  Or worse yet, it’s snowing, schools are closed, and so are the day programs.

Is it worth having to attend extra meetings and coordinate the schedules of parents, teachers, support staff, and supports coordinators? Is it worth creating new schedules for support staff when the job doesn’t fit existing schedules?

Is it worth trying to integrate people with disabilities into the workforce, when often all that is desired is for them to be busy with something meaningful, whether it’s a paying job or not?

These are the common questions I hear. On occasion, they go through my head when I’m frustrated. These questions also pop up when the frustration levels rise among support staff, family, and friends who want the good life for a person with a disability.

Recently, on a very sunny but brisk Saturday, I visited a friend in the hospital. I have known them for years, and for the last several years they have been employed, having found employment through Keystone Human Services’ supported employment services. Once I made it through the hospital maze to their room, we greeted each other and exchanged pleasantries.

Then my friend said, “You’re fired!”

Astonished, my first thought was, it’s Saturday, it’s cold, I came to visit you, and you’re firing me? Then realization washed over me. I was being asked if my friend was fired from their job.

After all, they had been in the hospital for close to a week, so they hadn’t reported to work. Nor had they personally called in to let their employer know they needed to use their leave time.

“Your supervisor knows you’re in the hospital. You’re not fired,” I said. “Don’t worry. Relax. You need to heal, and they know you need to get better before you return to work.”

I could see the tension in their arms and hands relax.

This conversation took place so quickly, I only had time to focus on my friend’s face. Now I really looked at them. They were lying in bed, wearing a wired, cone-shaped neck brace, unable to move their head or neck. There were IV lines in both hands. All this and they were worried about losing their job!

This is the kind of employee businesses want. They want employees who come to work because they like the job. They want people who are responsible to call in when they need time off. They want people who like that sense of accomplishment, the paycheck, the friends they make. They want people who want to work.

Businesses who have hired people with disabilities have learned this secret. These five business owners have learned the value of hiring people with disabilities. These business owners have discovered valuable employees who ultimately increase their employer’s bottom line.

Ron works at United Water tearing apart old meters for recycling. John Hollenbach, Vice President of United Water Mid-Atlantic Region, said, “We’re changing out approximately five-seven thousand meters a year, so he has a big bin to take care of, and he separates them so that when we take them to the scrapyard, we’re probably getting a couple dollars more for every meter Ron does, so you can do the math.  I don’t know how many exact meters he did, but I think it was somewhere in the range of $15,000-$20,000 that we were able to sell those meters for.”

Red Crown Bowling Center has employed Jonathan to vacuum and clean the tables and chairs. Don Kirkpatrick, the owner, said, “We’ve had different bowling proprietors from across the nation who stop in from time to time. We just had one in from Colorado, and he talked to me about my tables, wanted to know if I got new tables and chairs. I said no, they’re seventeen years old, and he remarked about how shiny and new-looking they looked. And that’s just a testament to what Jonathan does.”

Bill Hornung, owner of Hornung’s Ace Hardware, has an inclusive workforce and he said, “You’ll find your staff will improve, your management will improve, and everyone who’s connected to the project will get better. Your image in the community will improve, your customers will find you of more value and will use you more, because everybody wants to be part of helping someone else.”

And not only are the businesses benefitting, but the person with a disability benefits, too. They’re earning a paycheck and have the opportunity to make a difference. Like any other employee, they gain a sense of accomplishment for a job well done.

So is it worth all the system change it will take to create an inclusive workforce?

When you think about all the benefits to the employer and the employee, the answer is yes.

Yes, it is worth it.

Let’s Get to Work

Picture your typical high school student. When they graduate, they may go off to college, spend some time traveling, or find a job. Undoubtedly, their parents have big dreams for them and have pushed and prodded them along the way to gather the skills they’ll need to build a career.

The future for a high school senior with disabilities looks very different. Upon graduation, their options are to stay at home or enter a day program or sheltered workshop. Competitive employment is rarely an option. In fact, students with disabilities may never even have been asked the common question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Their parents and supporters may actually find it difficult to dream about the future.

The unemployment rate for people with disabilities has been 79% for the past two decades. That percentage includes all people with disabilities, including physical disabilities, mental illness, and intellectual disabilities. If we just look at the unemployment rate for people with intellectual disabilities, the number jumps to 97%.

True, many people with intellectual disabilities attend sheltered workshops or some type of group employment where they’re segregated at a business and receive their paycheck from the facility that has the contract to do the job. But while people may get paid for the work they’re doing, it’s not actually considered work by the Department of Labor and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Work is a job held in a typical workplace setting where the majority of people employed are not persons with disabilities. People earn at least minimum wage and are paid directly by their employer.

Sheltered workshops were primarily established as a place for people with disabilities to develop skills to transition into the competitive labor market. However, in reality, that’s not how sheltered workshops ended up functioning. Many people are continuing to attend workshops with little hope of gaining competitive employment in the community.

On average, people working in traditional jobs earn $456 per week. People with disabilities working in sheltered workshops average $175 per month. Why do they earn so much less in the sheltered workshops? Part of the reason stems from the sub-minimum wage. But people with disabilities are only paid for the work they complete, and the workshops don’t always have work for everyone. (Although everyone is expected to show up every day, regardless of whether there’s work for them.)

But people with disabilities don’t have to work in sheltered workshops. Even people who may struggle to be productive at the sheltered workshop can make valuable contributions to businesses with the right type of support, by focusing on a person’s interests, skills, and when and where they do their best work.

Through customized employment, people with disabilities can and are participating in the workforce. They are earning a paycheck, building relationships with their coworkers, building their confidence, and contributing to the economic stability of their community.

The future for high school seniors with disabilities doesn’t have to look so very different from their peers’ futures. Inclusive employment can be part of it. And with parents, family members, and support staff asking “What do you want to be?”, dreams can grow and the future can hold many possibilities.

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:

Determined to Succeed

Joe at The Hotel Hershey

Joe is a young man who is focused and determined on doing the best job that he can do. In late 2010, Joe set forth to find a job where he could showcase his abilities and demonstrate what he is capable of doing.  Joe, who is visually impaired and on the Autism Spectrum, knew that he could be a valuable asset to a company that would give him a chance to prove himself. With the full support and encouragement from his family and support staff, Joe began the process of finding the right job for himself.

There were many ups and down in what was a 10-month journey for Joe. He was determined after each experience to keep trying until he reached his goal. Joe never gave up or despaired about not getting a job. After several opportunities that didn’t work out, Joe found a good fit.  In March of 2011, an opening at The Hotel Hershey working in the storeroom supplying the various restaurants presented itself. Joe had some experience volunteering at the food bank and felt this was a job he could handle. Joe landed the job and the first part of his goal was accomplished.

When Joe started working, he had support staff with him throughout the entirety of his shifts. Joe and the staff at The Hotel Hershey meshed quickly and he became more and more independent at doing his job on his own. With the support and guidance of his supervisor Lester, Joe quickly succeeded at learning and performing his job duties. Lester helped Joe become part of the family at The Hotel and gave Joe many chances to prove he could do the job. Within two months, Joe went from having 40 hours of support on the job site to none at all. He demonstrated that he was able to handle the job on his own and The Hotel Hershey staff embraced Joe, offering him support if he needed it.

Joe continued to work and take great pride in being a member of the team at The Hotel Hershey. Earlier this year, Joe displayed how determined he is to go above and beyond at his job. No matter the weather, Joe came into work. Even during some of the worst snow storms, Joe showed up ready to work. One day in January, Joe was the only one from his department able to make it to work and held down the duties of the department on his own.  The chefs and rest of the kitchen staff took note of Joe’s work and gave him Legacy Checks, a recognition program designed by employees of Hershey Entertainment & Resorts (HE&R) to recognize fellow employees for exceptional work. Lester was proud of the work Joe did, saying, “He had it all down and did a fantastic job.” Joe himself was very proud of the recognition, stating, “It has been wonderful and my coworkers have been so nice.”

The recognition of his hard work did not stop there. For all of his efforts, Joe was honored as the employee of the month in January at The Hotel Hershey. Speaking about how he was able to come in to work on those bad weather days, Joe said, “I am always there when you need me.”  Joe has now been at The Hotel Hershey for three years. He has found a place to grow and is continually offered more responsibilities in his job duties. Lester and the rest of The Hotel Hershey staff continue to give Joe the opportunities that make his determination worthwhile and are proud to call him a colleague.

Focus on Ability in the Workplace

Did you know that 15% of the world’s population has a disability? That’s one billion people, and according to the International Labour Organization, 785 million people with disabilities are of working age. Yet people with disabilities have a high unemployment rate because of many stereotypes and misconceptions about their ability to work.

People with disabilities can and do work, and they can be a valuable asset to businesses.

The International Labour Organization created a short video called “The Ability Factor: Employing People with Disabilities Makes Good Business Sense.” Watch it to learn about some of the valuable contributions people with disabilities can and do make in the workplace.

Understanding Social Security: SSDI

As you read in our last post about Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Social Security is a vital lifeline for everyday needs. Most people understand the basics of Social Security, but they run into issues when starting a new job. Today, we’ll explain Supplemental Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) to help you understand what impact employment may have on your benefits.

The Social Security Administration is responsible for Title 2 (SSDI) and Title 16 (SSI) programs. SSDI is based off an individual’s work record. Through the Social Security tax or FICA tax, individuals pay into the program to be insured in case of disability. Under SSDI, a disabled person’s spouse and children are eligible to receive partial benefits payments. Unlike SSI, there are no asset limits and SSDI is not based on needs. However, there are income/activity limits for eligibility, referred to a substantial gainful activity (SGA). If a person is employed for 2014, the SGA countable income amount is $1,070 per month for non-blind individuals and $1,800 for people who are blind. If a person is self-employed, SGA is determined by the hours they worked. SGA is determined as anything above 80 hours.

Since SSDI is based on the work record of the individual, there is no set monthly amount determined by the Social Security Administration. For 2013, the average SSDI monthly payment was $1,177, while the highest payment was $2,533. In some circumstances, someone may qualify for SSDI but their monthly payment is below the SSI maximum federal benefits rate. In these circumstances, if the individual also qualifies for SSI, they can draw from both programs.

With income being the measure of whether or not someone receives the SSDI payment, many people are concerned about how much they earn while receiving SSDI. The program has many ways to ease that concern. First, when a person starts to work after receiving SSDI, they are given what is called a Trial Work Period (TWP). This is nine months over a five year rolling period when individuals can earn as much as they can over $750 (the 2014 amount) and still receive their entitlement. If they earn below this amount, the month does not count toward one of their nine months. For example, someone can earn $3,000 in one month and still receive their SSDI check during their Trial Working Period.

After their TWP ends, there are still ways for someone to reduce their countable income. These include Subsidy (support at work), Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWE), Blind Workers Exclusion (BWE), and failed work attempts.

Useful Links for Understanding SSDI

Understanding Social Security: SSI

For many people with a disability and their families, Social Security is a vital lifeline for everyday needs. Most people know the basics and can go years without any issues. When it comes time for someone to start a new job, however, issues can come up. Understanding which program you fall under and what impact employment may have on your benefits can play a huge role in not only your daily life but also your ability to keep working while maintaining your benefits.

The Social Security Administration is responsible for Title 2 (SSDI, retirement benefits) and Title 16 (SSI) programs. The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program is a needs-based program designed to help those who are 64 years and older or people of any age who are blind or have a disability and have limited funds and resources. The resource amount for SSI is limited to savings below $2,000 ($3,000 for a couple). Ownership of one home and one vehicle does not count toward the resource limit, so owning a home and car will not prohibit someone from receiving SSI.

The current federal maximum benefit rate for an individual is $721 per month. If the individual is living at home and is not providing for the household to a significant level, the amount they receive may be reduced by one-third or $483 per month. When someone becomes gainfully employed, their countable income will impact their monthly SSI check. No one will ever make less by working than they would off of SSI alone. Working will always lead to more income, in regards to SSI.

In addition to the cash benefit, many states offer Medical Assistance (MA) to those who qualify for SSI. Some people fear losing their Medical Assistance if they go to work. Once someone’s countable income reaches $1,527, they will no longer receive a cash payment from SSI but would still qualify for Medical Assistance coverage under 1619b. This extends to someone’s Medical Assistance eligibility per state thresholds.

Useful Links for Understanding SSI

Upcoming Event: Persons with Disabilities—An Untapped Workforce

We want to share an exciting upcoming event and invite you to attend. On Thursday, November 21, Randy Lewis of Walgreens will give a presentation on “Persons with Disabilities—An Untapped Workforce.” This is a fantastic opportunity, especially for businesses, to discuss inclusive work environments and the valuable skills people with disabilities contribute to the workforce.

The event is free, although registration is required.

Event Details

Persons with Disabilities—An Untapped Workforce
A Conversation with Randy Lewis, Walgreens
“No Greatness without Goodness”

Thursday, November 21, 2013
12:30 – 3:00 p.m.
Community Room, Giant, Camp Hill, PA
GIANT – Camp Hill – Super Food Store, 3301 Trindle Road, Camp Hill, PA 17011

A light lunch will be provided.

About the Event

As the Senior Vice President of Supply Chain and Logistics at Walgreens, Randy Lewis created thousands of full-time jobs for people with disabilities. No Greatness without Goodness is Randy’s firsthand account of what it takes to lead with courage in order to change people’s lives for the better. Randy’s motto is “What’s the use of having power if you don’t use it to do good.”  Randy bet his career that he could create an inclusive workplace at one of America’s biggest corporations where people with disabilities could not just succeed, but thrive. He shares the powerful story of a corporate executive who, after watching the world through the eyes of his own child with autism, Austin, realized that we all have a greater responsibility to make the world a better place for everyone, including those with disabilities.


Cheryl Pfingstl
Please RSVP by Nov. 19
Limited seating is available.

Pennsylvania’s Disability Employment Awareness Month

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry’s Office of Vocational Rehabilitation is participating in several events to celebrate and raise awareness about inclusive employment.

“This month of recognition highlights the benefits of hiring people with disabilities for employers who may not have considered this valuable resource of employees,” Labor and Industry Secretary Julia Hearthway said. “It also lets people know how OVR is helping people with disabilities gain entry to the workforce and emphasizes the no cost resources it has available to businesses who want to meet their workforce needs by hiring Pennsylvanians with disabilities.”

One of the highlighted events is the PA Disability Employment and Empowerment Summit (PADES) from October 23-25 in Camp Hill, PA. PADES brings together businesses, government agencies, service providers, and people with disabilities to discuss the challenges and successes of inclusive employment and to make suggestions for systems improvements. The workshops explore the value that people with disabilities bring to the workforce.

Other events include the Philadelphia OVR Disability Mentoring Day with KPMG on October 23 and the York OVR District Office Job Fair at the York HACC campus on October 25.

In keeping with the national recognition of Disability Employment Awareness Month, Governor Corbett proclaimed October to be Disability Employment Awareness Month. His proclamation, which says that “all Pennsylvanians should have the opportunity to live and work with dignity, freedom, and economic self-sufficiency,” takes an important step toward creating an inclusive workforce. However, there is much work still to be done to close the disparity gap among unemployed people with disabilities.

To learn more about PA’s Disability Employment Awareness Month activities and to read Governor Corbett’s proclamation, read the PA Department of Labor and Industry’s press release.