Disabilities: Agencies Aid in Making Employment Accessible to All

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.”

She 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 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 looking for employment, 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.”

At Catholic Charities Community Services in Rochester, Marilyn Palmieri, director of supportive services, said that the organization’s vocational assistants work with people until they have the skills and confidence they need to work.

Catholic Charities Community Services also provides employment supports to folks with other disabilities and disorders.

“Agencies that assist individuals with employment are strong at community outreach, but our work is not yet complete,” Palmieri said. “We continue to educate businesses in our communities on the benefits of employing people with disabilities and the various programs that exist to support people and employers in being successful.”

Employers indirectly benefit from an more diverse, accepting corporate culture as well as directly from the dependability of reliable employees who, in general, remain very dedicated to their work.

“The quality of life improves for people who have a job and are contributing to their community,” said Olivia Lewis, licensed master social worker and vocational services program supervisor with Catholic Charities. “Employment opportunities provide financial stability, build confidence and natural supports. We are committed to helping individuals with disabilities find integrated employment where they can work with people of all abilities.”

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