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.