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.


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.