Program offers help to disabled workers

Employers looking for dependable workers should turn their attention to the community employment services program offered by the Jefferson County Developmental Disabilities.

There are currently 23 people from the DD program successfully employed in the community at various businesses.

DD staff working with the program note that employers once asked about a person’s disability. They now are asking about their abilities.

The staff works hard to learn the job first. Then the person with a developmental disability is trained on the job. The employer can watch his or her progress and make the determination if they permanently should be hired. The DD staff stays with the person, providing continuing job coaching to improve performance and skills.

There was once a time when those with developmental disabilities had no choice but to work at the sheltered workshop. While the sheltered workshop provides some income, it isn’t nearly enough for independent living.

Parents of children with developmental disabilities worry about what will happen to their children once they reach adulthood and the parents are no longer able to care for them because of their own age.

A state task force working to improve job opportunities for the developmentally disabled believe people with developmental disabilities have the right to make informed decisions about where they work, and to have opportunities to obtain community jobs that result in greater earnings, better benefits, improved health and enhanced quality of life. In addition, meaningful employment offers individuals with developmental disabilities the opportunity to bolster self-esteem, expand their network of natural supports, make friends and demonstrate their professional abilities in a public setting. These benefits all contribute to the diversity of our work force and enrichment of the community.

A recent nationwide survey by Special Olympics showed only 44 percent of developmentally disabled adults are currently in the labor force, either employed or looking for work, while just 34 percent are actually working. That compares with 83 percent of nondisabled, working-age adults who are in the work force.

Employers today are faced with finding dependable workers, especially in minimum wage service jobs. The DD program says it can offer that with its workers. Those currently in the work force in the community are known for being at work, on time and available to fill in additional shifts when needed.

It does take time to train the worker, but the employer has a valuable employee as a result.

Plus, the worker is given the opportunity to become self-sufficient, live in the community, make new friends and save for the future – all things any worker first entering the work force wants.