Exploring Supported Employment: A Parent’s Perspective
Thursday, March 24th 2016
Hello everyone and welcome back to the blog today! We hope you are all enjoying these early days of spring – we certainly are.
A few weeks ago, ILO Participating Family member Barbara Goldschmidt wrote a blog titled What it Takes to Weave Bridges: A Participating Family’s Perspective on ILO and Intentional Communities. This post is a lovely personal reflection on the steps the Goldschmidts have taken thus far to create an intentional community for their daughter, Rachel. In her post Barbara also shared with us her thoughts, feelings and experiences as she and her husband integrate into the network of ILO Participating Families and take part in ILO training, such as Center for Independent Futures ™ New Futures Initiative™ training. We would like to take a moment to thank Barbara for writing this blog, as not only is it enjoyable and inspiring to read, it also shares valuable insight about ILO and intentional communities to families that may be considering joining.
Today, we are lucky enough to be able to share with you another one of Barbara’s posts – this one focusing on the Goldschmidt family’s experiences with helping their daughter (an ILO self-advocate) Rachel search for and obtain employment in the Washington DC area – an important part of independent living. If you haven’t already, please take a moment to read Barbara’s first post, then pop back here to continue on with Barbara as she and her family take the next steps in their special needs journey.
Exploring Supported Employment
One day, during a conversation with my neighbor, she said to me, “You’re so sweet.” My inner lioness purred with pleasure at the successful deception. Under my placid exterior was a ferocious readiness to spring into action for my daughter with special needs.
However, I reached the end of my savannah when my daughter’s education was complete. Now the two of us stand at a border that looks out at the work world. Mama lion can’t call the boss to challenge a policy or apologize for a child’s misunderstanding. A whole new terrain has to be navigated. The hair at the back of my neck rose as we took some tentative steps last week, which I share here.
Our first appointment with a job developer was scheduled for Wednesday, March 16. A day for the DC history books, as the entire Metro was shut down for track inspections. I worried: would the counselor be able to get to work? Would the streets be gridlocked because everyone (including us) was driving in? Would there be any parking spaces left?
I sensed a recurring theme of anxiety. The first lesson at our ILO training was that apprehension was common. We had to remember we were not alone. In fact, other parents in ILO had pointed us to the potential job developers we were going to see.
Agencies are as varied as the people who work there, though on paper they offer similar services. We were considering three different options. We would gather the facts, figure out the acronyms that applied to us (DDS, DDA, DORS, RSA, and the I.D. waiver) and rely on our senses to find a good fit.
Make Time a Motivator
Our first appointment was with an agency that provides supported employment for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) in the District of Columbia. We arrived on time (there was no traffic or parking problem after all!) and were greeted by a friendly, well-dressed woman.
Most of her introductory comments were about her agency’s relationship with employers. She said they often set up opportunities for a casual conversation with an employer, to give the job seeker a chance to find out what the employer looks for in a candidate. My daughter Rachel liked this idea.
In her closing remarks the counselor said something we had never considered: “We create a timeline, with a beginning, middle and end. We want a date set for when you want to be working, whether full-time or part-time.” To have a target date. What a concept.
The Employment Picture
National research reveals that 84% of people with developmental disabilities do not have a paid job. The 16% who do work put in 12-16 hours a week for which they earn about $85-$113. Clearly we can’t just look for jobs for our kids; we have to get out into the community and help create jobs.
In the whole life model we studied at the Center for Independent Futures®, an individual is surrounded by circles of support. One of those circles is “Earning My Way”. The mind-expanding concept of the circles helped Rachel think beyond a resume and an interview. The important next steps—getting an offer, deciding whether to disclose a disability and retaining a job—are all part of the picture now.
Checking in with the Psychologist
In between meetings with job developers we visited a psychologist to discuss Rachel’s diagnosis in relation to employment. Rachel was diagnosed with a non-verbal learning disability (NLD) when she was in elementary school. Though some of her symptoms overlap with Asperger’s, she does not fit the full profile.
Rachel told the doctor that as an individual with an “invisible” disability it is difficult to explain to an employer what accommodations she needs. The psychologist agreed that Rachel might need to educate her employer and possibly even her job coach. She suggested Rachel say something like, “You may not be familiar with the term non-verbal learning disability, but here’s some information about how it applies to my work.”
Rachel could provide a list of areas where she may need help, such as figuring out how to address problems in the right way, how to be honest and still be politically correct, and the need to prepare in advance for certain tasks. We stepped out of the office into sunlight and singing birds, feeling our sense of direction affirmed.
Our last stop was an agency in Maryland that offers services to children and young adults with disabilities. The conversation with the intake coordinator focused on the individual. “It’s all about discovery,” she said. It begins with assessment and skill building. For instance, if Rachel wanted to work in an office, they could help her practice answering phones and taking messages (something she would need).
Next comes help with the job search, sending out 3-5 resumes a week and lining up interviews. The thorny question of whether or not to disclose came up. This is a highly individual decision with no set answer, as it depends so much on the individual employee and prospective employer. Rachel’s experience has led to the conclusion that she should disclose, so she can get the mentoring she needs. “If you’re going to want a job coach,” our coordinator advised, “it’s best to be upfront from the start. You can’t ask a job coach to come in when there’s a problem and you’re about to be fired. That won’t go over well.” Amen to that.
We are planning to talk with one more agency before we choose one. Looking back on our experience, the first agency had a more corporate feel and seemed to focus on relationships with employers. We felt kind of tired when we left. At the second agency, paintings by children lined the walls and photos of clients with staff were everywhere. We felt excited by possibilities when we walked out. The physical attributes of an environment are an important indicator of where emphasis is placed.
I am starting to see the possibility of Rachel gaining strength as she ventures forth. Like everyone else, she may need help, but I don’t have to let my tenacity get in the way of her path towards independence. It may be too early to celebrate, but at least this mama lion sleeps tonight.
Would You Like More Information?
Again, thank you all so much for taking the time to visit our blog today. We hope that you enjoyed reading Barbara’s piece as much as we did. If you have any questions about ILO or becoming a participating family member, please contact ILO directly!
If you have any further questions about M&L Special Needs Planning, or the services we offer to individuals with disabilities and their families, please contact us. We would love to speak with you about how we can help you and your families secure a financially stable and successful future.
See you all next week!
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