A huge challenge faced by adults with developmental disabilities is getting others—including employers--to recognize their unique individual talents, personalities and interests. In the community and the workplace, these adults are too often defined solely by their diagnoses. YAP’s team of staff and self-advocates is working to change that misperception.
“When we work with potential employers, we want them to meet “Jack the person”—not “Jack who is on the Autism Spectrum,” says YAP’s Coordinator of Developmental Disabilities Programs Lori Burrus. “We keep the focus on the assets each individual will bring to workplace. In essence we’re asking employers “would these qualifications make you want to hire this person?”
Employer engagement strategies are part of A Working Life Style which is YAP’s program goal for adults with developmental disabilities. A Working Life Style has a different meaning for each individual, so plans are developed around each person’s needs, interests, and circumstances.
YAP’s Pennsylvania DD programs serve approximately 350 children, youth and adults providing approximately 2,000 hours of service weekly. Adults may be living with families or living alone. Many live in poverty, struggling to survive on SSI benefits that on average are below $700 per month. (please see chart). Regular employment with a living wage is a priority for most adults but volunteer opportunities can also be an important part of a working life style.
Individuals with developmental disabilities have dreams of a good paying job and a lifestyle that works for them. Sadly, their dreams are often crushed by poverty and by misunderstandings about their capabilities.
YAP staff are both realists and solution finders. They support employer/employee relationships from the initial hiring process through day-to-day experience on the job.
A major goal is bringing businesses and self-advocates (people with developmental disabilities who want to make their voices heard) together in “employment groups” in various areas Lori Burrus explained. Many self-advocates are employed and share their experiences with employers and other people with developmental disabilities who are seek employment.
There are many disability friendly employers Burrus says. She names Lowe’s, Walmart, Walgreens, TJ Maxx and Marshall’s as a few examples. YAP also works with smaller businesses and many “Mom and Pop shops” that are often willing to employ YAP clients. One of YAP’s own outstanding IT employees has a developmental disability.
YAP staff are available to provide employer training and also work with employees and families of developmentally disabled adult children. When adult children are called names or treated poorly by co-workers, some parents say “my child is being hurt and just shouldn’t go back.” Burrus said. YAP helps employees develop self-advocacy plans: What to do if it happens again? What can you do if you feel no one is listening to you? What kind of language shouldn’t be used in the workplace?
For the people in YAP’s PA Developmental Disabilities Program, job match sites range from retail stores to an airport to community retirement centers. “Getting people in the right job for them is key to long-term success,” Burrus concludes. YAP’s goal is to make many more “good matches” that benefit employers and Developmentally Disabled workers.