Another Reason Employment Matters

I felt ill and in disbelief when I read the recent article about a three-year-old girl with intellectual disabilities allegedly being denied a life-saving kidney transplant from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Because of her disability, this girl’s young life was not seen as having value and therefore she was not being given the right to live. Sadly, I have heard similar stories far more than I want to acknowledge. 

You may be asking, “so what does this have to do with NEBA and employment?”

In my opinion, employment brings equality and improves the quality of one’s life. Working demonstrates intelligence, commitment and contribution. In addition to the monetary reward, working gives us purpose and defines who we are. Lastly, working brings opportunities to develop friendships and relationships, all of which bring value to our lives.

 The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is alarming. Nationally, only 21% of individuals with disabilities are participating in the workforce, 16% of which are currently unemployed. 74% of individuals with developmental or intellectual disabilities who are receiving services are in congregates or segregated programs. This leaves these individuals more vulnerable to public policy decisions, funding cuts, a chronic life of poverty, and in some cases not valued enough to have the right to live.

We can change these statistics, but we need to act now. Legislators need to stop funding segregated models of service and use funds to assist more individuals enter the workforce on their own terms and become contributing, equal members of their communities. Employment First models need to be adhered to, providers need to be diligent and not be satisfied developing jobs that offer minimal hours, and individuals and their families need to be educated about their choices and how employment can make a difference in improving the quality of their lives.

– Jeannine Pavlak, Executive Director, NEBA

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Looking Forward

This time of year is my favorite. It’s a natural time to reflect on the past year, thank those who have supported our mission, and celebrate those who have met their goals. NEBA is privileged to employ 60 very talented and dedicated staff who assisted many new job seekers to become employed this year, and helped many more maintain their jobs despite difficult economic conditions.

This year was particularly challenging due to fiscal uncertainties and natural disasters. Although trying, these did not deter us from meeting our mission: “To enable people with disabilities whose rights and freedoms are most likely denied them to be fully included in community life, primarily through employment.”

Despite the difficult times, NEBA expanded services into Connecticut and became a vendor of the Department of Developmental Services and the Bureau of Rehabilitation Services. NEBA is now assisting 42 individuals to find jobs in their communities, and we plan to increase our capacity to serve more individuals in 2012.

The NEBA Business Development Center (BDC) served 40 individuals this year interested in being self-employed; eight of whom completed their business plan in the past quarter. These new businesses are now off to the implementation phase and one business has already seen the need to hire an additional employee. The BDC also became an affiliated member of the MACDC which is committed to community and economic development and received funding from the People’s United Community Foundation and the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts.

As the economic challenges continue, the tasks and challenges become more urgent for all of us. More than ever we need to work in partnership, recognize that we’re all bound together in a social and economic struggle, and remember that employment needs to be the priority for individuals with disabilities. Although NEBA has always partnered with local businesses, partnering with other non-profits was and will continue to be fundamental to our being able to reach more individuals and strengthen our service delivery. Chapel Haven in Connecticut, FutureWorks Career Center, and the Scibelli Enterprise Center in Massachusetts were new partnerships formed/strengthened this year specifically to increase the number of individuals with disabilities who become employed or self-employed.

We look forward to these ongoing partnerships as well as forming new partnerships that will assist us in serving many more in 2012.

– Jeannine Pavlak, Executive Director, NEBA