Valley Gives 2014, Where will you donate?

Valley Gives 2014, Where will you donate?.

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Challenging Sheltered Workshops

NEBA was founded in 1983 to advocate for an alternative to the standard practice of sheltered workshops for individuals with disabilities. In sheltered workshops, individuals with disabilities often perform mundane tasks, have little interaction with non-disabled peers, and earn far below minimum wage.

Through the years, NEBA’s individualized, supported employment approach has provided more career options, more wages, and more opportunities for community inclusion for the people we serve than sheltered workshops ever could. Unfortunately, sheltered workshops are still the rule rather than the exception in Massachusetts and nationally.

However, there is a hopeful sign. For the first time in our nation’s history, individuals with disabilities have filed a class action lawsuit to challenge the practice of sheltered workshops. This lawsuit challenges the state of Oregon for its practice of funding segregated workshops, and alleges that these workshops are a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act.

Within the past decade, more laws and regulations have clearly stated that individuals with disabilities should live and work in their communities, not segregated out.  Despite this, referrals to sheltered workshops continue to increase. The National Disability Rights Network reports that “for every one person working in competitive employment, three people remain in segregated settings.” 

In Massachusetts, 6,126 individuals receive funding from the Department of Developmental Services for employment services.  Of these, 3, 217 individuals are in segregated, facility-based services compared to 1, 810 individuals who are in an individual, supported job.  Despite having an “Employment First”   initiative in Massachusetts (which advocates for competitive employment as a preferred outcome) more than 50 percent of residents with developmental disabilities remain in segregated, facility-based programs.

The Oregon lawsuit may have major implications nationwide as more advocates and individuals with disabilities speak out about their right to have real work, earn real pay, and be a real member of their community.

Jeannine Pavlak, Executive Director, NEBA

The Key to Employment Success

Every day, I see articles scattered about the internet about jobs. Job creation, job success, interview tips and tricks, what to put/not to put on your résumé…the list goes on. Some of these articles, however, don’t even describe the most important step in finding a successful job placement, not only for agencies supporting individuals with disabilities, but for everyone.

A legitimate question: how many of you buy something immediately after seeing it, without even asking what it does or how much it costs? Probably very, very few of you. What would make you more likely to purchase it? Probably a few things:

  • The item’s purpose – What can it do for me?
  • The item’s cost – How much will this cost me?
  • The item’s performance – Is it well-built? Is it made by a reputable manufacturer? Does it have good reviews?
  • The item’s demand – Will I really use this if I purchase it?

A lot of what NEBA does it similar to a customer contemplating a purchase, only the customer is an employer, and the item (not to intentionally dehumanize), is our job seeker. Employers have all of these basic questions (and then some) in mind. To paraphrase the above list into employment terms:

  • The job seeker’s role – What can this person do to help my business?
  • The job seeker’s pay – How much should I compensate them for their work? Can I afford it?
  • The job seeker’s credentials – What are their skills? Does NEBA know they are a good match for my business?
  • The job seeker’s effectiveness – If I hire this person, will it be worth my investment?

Back to the important key step in employment success. Before an employer can even begin to ask these questions, they need to trust the person they are speaking with. This does not happen in the first, or second, or even third or fourth conversation together. It takes time to build a relationship, and that is the first key to employment success for our individuals. Is it mostly in the job seeker’s hands to succeed? Absolutely. But with NEBA as the catalyst to employment and as the initial contact to employers, it is our relationship building that starts the journey to successful placement.

If you happen to receive a visit from a NEBA employment consultant, you can be sure we won’t blurt out our mission statement. We want you to do the talking first. 🙂 It is about your business, not our job-seekers. We want to know what your business does. How you have reached your current status as a business. How today’s economy is affecting your bottom line, and your employees. We want to know how your business impacts the community. We also want to know your story. How did you come to be the employer that you are? Are there things you would change about your business? What’s your favorite ice cream flavor (hey, it can’t be all business)?

The bottom line: If we don’t know about you, we cannot possibly know about your business. If we don’t know about your business, we cannot possibly know if a NEBA job seeker would be a great match. Without taking the steps to nurture a relationship, there’s no point in even asking about job opportunities, because neither NEBA nor an employer wants to invest in something they don’t know about.

-Ryan Aldrich

Senior Employment Consultant, Connecticut Services

Connect-Ability

This will be a short post as I want to turn your attention to something important.

Here in Connecticut we are a Community Rehab Provider (CRP) for the Bureau of Rehabilitation Services (BRS).  We also partner with the Department of Developmental Services (DDS)  and CT Works/DOL (Department of Labor).  There are acronyms for everything, I know.

It’s a lot to keep track of, but there is a great resource which NEBA uses that describes the wide range of services and providers available to the people of Connecticut. This website is: http://www.connect-ability.com

Take a moment to see what this website has to offer. It has personal success stories, a Career Center, an informational section for potential employers for commonly asked questions regarding hiring people with disabilities, and much more.

Happy reading! 🙂

 Timothy Blonsky, Senior Employment Specialist, Connecticut

What Does “Employment First” Mean?

In 2009 and 2010, Connecticut and Massachusetts joined several other states across the country in adopting an “Employment First” policy. This policy establishes that for adults with disabilities, integrated, individual employment is the preferred service option and optimal outcome. NEBA is a strong supporter of this policy, and we have been achieving many of its goals since our inception.

In Massachusetts, the stated goals of Employment First are as follows:

    •  Achieve Integrated Individual Employment. Integrated employment has always been the focus of NEBA’s service model.
    • Offer Comprehensive Self-Employment Support Services: NEBA’s Business Development Center, one of the most extensive self-employment programs for individuals with disabilities in the country, enables individuals who are serious about starting their own businesses to write a business plan and receive ongoing support for up to three years.
    • Achieve Employment Based on Individual Preferences and Needs: NEBA’s individualized approach helps the individuals we serve find and remain in the job they desire. If the individual lacks a core competency that is required for the position they want, NEBA’s job skills training program helps them build their necessary skills.
    • Place an Emphasis on Natural Supports: NEBA works with employers to identify natural supports that will enable the individual to successfully complete their job duties.
    • Maximize Work Hours: NEBA believes that the optimal employment status should be one where individuals are working the maximum number of hours they are capable of working.
    • Use Community Settings for Non-Work Hours: In additional to employment services, NEBA works with a variety of community centers to provide opportunities for volunteerism and other activities that can result in greater inclusion in community life.

Implementing these goals results in measurable increases in employment of individuals with disabilities within the general workforce who are earning minimum wage or higher with benefits. NEBA is currently working with our legislature, employers, and community partners so that we can all more effectively make the goals of the Employment First policy a reality.

Job Creation vs. Job Carving

It’s not uncommon to hear the term “job creation” in everyday life. With today’s volatile economy, jobs are one of the main topics of the 2012 presidential election. With unemployment around 8.5%, everyone has ideas on how to create jobs. Whether your preferred job creation tactic is tax breaks, stimulus funds, or good old-fashioned education access, people need to work to live successfully. When it comes to job creation, NEBA is no different. NEBA also uses a strategy called “job carving” to place job seekers in successful positions. What’s the difference?

Job Creation

Job creation is just as it states. A position is drawn up based upon an employer’s need. Job descriptions are created, a salary is set, and someone is hired to do the job. NEBA meets with employers and gets to know them and their business. What are their needs? What are their barriers to further success? How can a NEBA job seeker help them meet their goals? If these questions are not asked, we cannot match the right person to the right job, and we are therefore not doing our job.

Job Carving

Job carving is based upon the same concept as job creation, but is a bit different, in that it is usually based upon a position that already exists and is vacant. When meeting with an employer, NEBA may have a job seeker in mind that could benefit the employer. However, sometimes, not all of the tasks are aligned with the job seeker’s abilities. Perhaps the person can lift 40 pounds when the job requires 60. Maybe 30 minutes of a 6-hour shift involves heavy typing, and that’s not someone’s forté. This is where job carving comes into play. What if NEBA could help an employer figure out how to integrate that one task amongst other staff? This way, the barrier would be cleared, and NEBA’s applicant could confidently perform all other tasks the employer is looking for. Essentially, the job is being “carved” to cater to the job seeker. Employers still hire one person for the job they needed complete, and are supporting NEBA’s mission and community integration in the process!

Carving A Creation

Sometimes, job carving leads to job creation. Working with a Springfield Walgreens, we were able to take the extraneous tasks of cleaning restrooms, sweeping the store, washing windows and doors, etc., away from staff who needed to focus on customer service, and create a new position for one of our job seekers whose employment goal was to keep a store neat and tidy. Nearly 7 years later, that gentleman is still gainfully employed and has many natural supports in place to secure his independence.

Whether it’s job creation or job carving, NEBA’s mission of putting people to work in their communities is a win-win.

–Ryan Aldrich, Senior Employment Consultant: Connecticut Services

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