I come from the Washington, D.C. metro area. The first question you get asked there, when you meet someone new, is “What do you do?” Our jobs often define us, shape our perspectives, and influence our decisions about the future. This is true for many people.
Here at the Center on Disability Studies (CDS), College of Education, University of Hawai’i, Mānoa, one of the challenges we are invested in is providing more and better employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
- We help people explore job possibilities;
- We teach how getting a job affects Social Security benefits and Medicaid coverage;
- We demonstrate how higher education can be an important part of a career path; and
- We work with state agencies to test how more and smart cross-agency collaboration can be easier on employees and lead to jobs for people with disabilities with the right kind of supports and fewer hassles.
If you visit our website you can learn more about these four efforts and more.
I think what drives those of us at CDS is a belief that – if a person can indicate his/her likes and dislikes, and can demonstrate what he/she can do, there is a job out there waiting for that person. A famous Russian tennis player once said, “If you are good at something and enjoy doing it, someone out there is willing to pay you to do it. That’s a job. That applies to anyone.”
I have been here since last September, 2016. I am slowly learning how things work in Hawaii with regard to employment opportunities for people with disabilities. There is much interest in the topic. Federal funding agencies have made it a priority. So, the question is what do we do and how do we do it? Well, here are my initial thoughts.
- Join forces. We need to work together. Find out what other states are doing to assist individuals with significant disabilities secure jobs with competitive wages in integrated settings. Share information with each other across agencies and organizations.
- Get stakeholders’ input. Many people are impacted by employment initiatives – people with disabilities, their families, agency leaders, transition teachers in high schools, vocational rehabilitation counselors, service providers, case managers, employees from job center one-stops; and employers. We need to know what each of these groups think about the strategies used now to help a person with a disability secure a job. What do they think IS working and NOT working.
- Educate families about the impact of having a job on Social Security benefits and Medicaid coverage. Acquiring and maintaining eligibility for Social Security payments and health care coverage can be complicated, like doing a tax return, but it can be done and there are people trained that can show how to get a job AND retain benefits and coverage. A person’s situation may be unique, but a solution is available. So, fear of losing benefits and health care should NEVER be an issue.
- Embrace discovery and customized employment. There are many strategies, some entrenched, routinely used in preparing people with significant disabilities for jobs. Discovery and customized employment has been tested and work. They may incorporate some of the traditional ways of preparing someone to do a job – job coaching and supported employment – but much is, on the discovery side, developing a comprehensive picture of what a person likes to do and what they are good at doing; letting the person interview managers and employees at job locations and getting the person’s feedback on what he/she thinks; designing a person-centered plan based on this real-life data collection; nailing a job which involves what the person likes to do (maybe with someone the person interviewed); guiding, to the extent necessary, him/her till he/she can do the job with the desired level of proficiency; identifying natural supports at the job site to help if a question comes up. Don’t we all wish this happened in our first job?
- Provide joint training across agencies. Such training exposes people in the same business (i.e., assisting a person with a disability secure a job) from different agencies to each other; allows them to learn about progressive, tested ways to assist a person with a disability find a job (e.g., person-centered planning, discovery and customized employment); permits them to share experiences and strategies and identify how they can and cannot be a resource for each other; develops a common language; and lays the ground work for them to working together in the future.
- Test progressive ways of assisting people with disabilities secure jobs. If professionals in the job business have been trained together, they may welcome the opportunity to develop a pilot project together around new ways of doing business. This pilot could focus on a particular age group, selected geographic areas, or certain employment sectors (e.g., farming, hospitality, military or military contractors). The experience should be documented, so it could be replicated. The results of this pilot project could be used to shape new cross-agency policies. Data from the pilot could be used to educate policymakers and to make the case for more projects or taking the new way of doing business statewide.
- Make sure the public knows what’s going on. Sharing steps and progress along the way generates interest, engagement, and buy-in.
- Explore ways of offering information and soft supports to people with disabilities who just need a little help. Not everyone with a disability needs a plan, but most people with a disability would benefit from information about events, resources, support groups, and online skill building. If we all invest in increasing job opportunities for persons with disabilities let’s not forget or leave out those who only need a little help.
The Center on Disabilities welcomes your feedback on this and future posts. We welcome the chance to explore with you how we can make the ideas expressed here and those shared in the future a reality in the great state of Hawaii.
Pat Morrissey, Director, CDS