By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
The route to employment for individuals with developmental disabilities is often not as linear or rapid as for those who are developmentally typical. Various organizations in the area can help families with resources helpful for their young adults who want to find employment.
“Everyone deserves to work,” said Kayt Davidson, director of transition services at job path employment services, a division of The Arc of Monroe in Rochester. “It gives you that satisfaction. When you meet someone new, you ask what they do. Everyone deserves to answer that question.”
The Arc also provides programming in Erie County in a similar fashion to Monroe County.
Davidson said that schools are improving their ability to help families learn about employment readiness programs that pick up when the school district’s services end at age 21. Arc is also working on getting involved sooner so parents realize what is available to help their young people.
“The biggest misconception is, ‘How will my son or daughter get there? They can’t use public transportation,’” Davidson said.
The Arc starts with assessing skills, interests and abilities and then provides whatever coaching, pre-employment readiness, supported employment through The Arc and on-the-job mentors the individual needs to learn skills for successful employment. Most of the time, it’s for entry-level, low-skill employment.
“They learn about etiquette, showing up on time every day, how to navigate transportation on their own, social interactions, and they write a professional resume, they learn interview skills,” said Lindsey Graser, director of marketing and communications at The Arc of Monroe. “Employers get good quality people, the same if not better than someone coming off the street.”
The Arc also helps with employment search, filling out applications and connecting with businesses in the area to help them fill openings with appropriate candidates.
Davidson said the community is very accepting of on-the-job mentors who enhance the employer’s training and help identify small areas where accommodation would enhance the employee’s success. For many individuals The Arc serves, streamlined, written procedures or lists help, but employers find that these can help the entire staff and they’re universally adopted, according to Davidson.
“The people we work with maintain employment longer in entry level positions which generally have higher turnover,” Davidson said.
In addition to feeling proud of their accomplishment of obtaining employment, individuals learn life skills they may not have otherwise. Davidson said that a parent of one worker recently told her that his daughter decided to take the bus to Target by herself and later call for a ride home. Her phone died while she was gone. She realized she could ask to use the phone at the customer service desk.
“He was flabbergasted she would know to do that,” Davidson said. “They had never talked about it. She had gained that skill. She learned all these other things that were so helpful for her in life.”
Parent Network of WNY
Working with parents and youth also represents the mission of Parent Network of Western New York. Though not a provider of services, Parent Network helps families navigate how to meet their young person’s needs and assists in reaching goals.
Among its programs, the organization helps young people with all sorts of disabilities who are finishing high school and looking forward to using what they’ve learned to begin working or perhaps explore further education.
“We can help them understand the type of accommodation they may need to ask for and the law about reasonable accommodation,” said Tonia Weichmann, transition coordinator at Parent Network. “It’s guiding the family so their child is successful.”
She said that many individuals and their parents don’t realize what supports would help nor how to advocate to receive the supports needed for success in further education or employment. While these are usually readily available in school, the supports are less apparent or non-existent in the working world.
Weichmann said that one example could be asking for a written routine and explaining that will help get the job done.
The organization also helps connect families with non-college training programs and on-the-job training opportunities.
Parent Network belongs to different committees and organizations that are made up of employers, which can help identify ways individuals can become part of the working world. Parent Network also strives to help employers “to understand that individuals with learning differences do make good employees,” Weichmann said. “They just need a chance.”
She said that some employers think that if an individual has developmental disabilities, he won’t may be able to do the job.
“It’s been found most individuals want to work, do a good job and make people happy,” Weichmann said.
She said that for the individuals finishing high school, many of their social connections disappear once they turn the tassel. Becoming part of the working world requires rebuilding a sense of community, which presents different challenges to people with special needs.
Even getting to work represents a challenge to many individuals if they don’t drive and there’s no school bus to pick them up at 7:30 a.m. and drop them off later.
“We talk with them about what it takes to go to work,” she said. “A lot of parents say, ‘I’ll drive them’ which works until someone’s schedule changes. That conversation about that reality helps them understand what’s going to happen.”
Weichmann said that in addition to earning money to buy what they want, individuals achieve a great sense of satisfaction and independence working a job.
“The most common question asked when you meet someone new is ‘What do you do?’ Most can respond and say, ‘I do this’ and it’s that piece of community and involvement. They’re out meeting new people and developing their own community.
“It’s a sense of worth and accomplishment.”