Employment is a difficult subject in the Ds community. It is a reason for advocacy but it is also a source for heated, emotional debate within the community.
Poppin’ Joe has a lot to celebrate so we’re joining him!
Today we’ll look at the numbers on disability and employment from two different entities that focus on this issue.
One of our favorite, and most popular resources is our List.ly list of businesses owned by adults who have Down syndrome. People are willing and excited to support our young entrepreneurs!
The purpose of this post is not to debate sheltered workshops, but to give those who are interested, insight into the vocational process we have experienced with Josh. His “resume” of sorts.
These are OUR OPINIONS & OUR EXPERIENCES, nothing more and nothing less.
I will start by saying that Josh will never be allowed to stay home on a
daily basis unless he is sick. I have to work, dad has to work, big brother has to work, AND Josh has to work. Plain and simple, Josh has to work just like the rest of us. Even if he were to be home all day long WITH a list of chores to be accomplish everyday, he still would go crazy (as would I). His mind is very active and he needs something to occupy it. So, work, in this house, is a requirement.
You first must understand how the process works here in our state. Every state is different. Any educational or vocational program we design for Josh is paid for by the city that we live in until he turns 22 years old. Josh only turned 19 yesterday, so we continue to work with the city to develop a program for Josh.
In very simple terms, the city we live in PAYS for whatever his program will include and there are limited options available to us. Once he turns 22, the state will take over responsibility of his vocational program, meaning they take over paying for it and those options will be limited as well, although they are currently in the very early stages of expanding the options that will be available to Josh in three years from now.
The first job Josh had was as a volunteer at our local humane society. He worked in the adoption center doing laundry, sweeping and mopping floors, and walking and playing with the dogs and sometimes the cats. There was NO PAY involved for doing this job. In fact, Josh needed supervision during the time he spent at the shelter and we, mom and dad, had to hire a job coach and pay for her services out of our pocket. He was ready to work, had the skill set to do the work, but still needed the supervision to remain safe. There was no program, at the City or State level, that would pay for a job coach. Fortunately, we had the means to do this for Josh, but coming up with “extra” money is never easy for a middle class family. Josh eventually became bored with that job and we ran into scheduling difficulties, so that job came to an end.
Josh’s next job was assisting two custodians at a local elementary school at the end of the summer helping to get the school ready for the fall. Another job that he did for NO PAY. We again had to pay for a job coach to assist/supervise him.
His next job was for a local zoo, also a volunteer position. Again, NO PAY. This job was through the school department, so his job coach was paid for by them, thankfully.
That bring us up to date. Josh currently works at a sheltered workshop
part-time. He attends school in the morning and work in the afternoon. HE LOVES IT AND HE GETS A PAYCHECK. This is his first paying job and again, he loves it. He is happy. He is fulfilled. He is proud. He is gaining skills. He is exhausted when he gets home. It puts money in his pocket.
We consider everything Josh has done up until and including now, stepping stones, resume building. Josh’s next step, which will begin June 9th, will be working with an enclave (a small group of people with disabilities with one job coach to assist/supervise/train). Just another step towards independence. With every job, Josh has learned valuable skills.
We want our kids to be accepted and included by society, but sometimes we, their family, look beyond their WANTS and make decisions for them based on what we think is right. It just might be time to start listening to our loved ones with ID/DD about what makes them happy. We absolutely feel Josh is capable of making decisions about where he wants to work. HE MADE THE CHOICE TO WORK FOR GOODWILL. He has had other experiences to give him an idea of what the possibilities are. He loves Goodwill and I am, quite frankly, becoming disgusted with the bad press I see about sheltered workshops.
Before you jump on the bandwagon of negative perceptions, are you informed about what this particular agency and agencies like them can do for our loved ones? Has your loved one actually had the experience of working for one of them?
I would caution people not to judge what they have not experienced.
Are you aware that .82 cents on every single dollar of merchandise sold in their stores goes directly back into the workshop program Josh participates in? Did you know that Savers (Big Brothers/Big Sisters) gives .02 cents on every dollar back to their sheltered workshop?
Do I think improvements need to be made? Yes, always, no matter what
subject we’re talking about, nothing is perfect and improvements can always be made. BUT, I am telling you from experience, our experience, Josh loves his job, takes his job seriously, is gaining skills, and is truly loved by the people around him, coworkers, job coaches, and supervisors alike. Is a sheltered workshop the vocational answer for everyone with ID/DD? Of course not!! Is it right for some? Absolutely! Should the sheltered workshop be an OPTION for families? Yes it should!!
I am finding it increasingly difficult to not speak my mind about the
positive experiences we are having with Goodwill when all we see or hear about is how “bad” the sheltered workshop is for MY kid. To all of you naysayers - YOU’RE WRONG! Based on our personal experience with Josh and Goodwill, YOU ARE WRONG!
As the debate over sheltered workshops and “meaningful employment” continues, I’ve struggled with exactly what that means. In my teens I worked at a few fast food places. I ended up moving to a better job at a drug store. From there I ended up paying medical claims for an insurance company. None of those were exciting. They were available. I did my best and moved up in the last company, changing positions when I discovered something that I was good at.
I’ve always envied people who have the resources to create their own employment, follow their dreams, and earn a living doing what they were meant to do. Most of us aren’t that lucky. What we can do however, is pay attention to what motivates us. We can take an honest inventory of our talents and skills. Hopefully, we’ll think of a dream job, and maybe get a chance to work towards it. That’s what dreams are for – setting realistic goals. Who likes to keep working towards the same dream all of their lives without getting anywhere?
As parents, I think too often we end up settling for our kids too. Sometimes it’s a matter of financial resources. Parents may look for employment for their son or daughter that allows them to pursue their own careers. They can’t afford to stay home, so the child has to go somewhere. Sometimes we end up falling for the hype we’ve been fed since our child was born – they are limited – they won’t be happy in challenging positions so we should give them something easy to do so they can be “productive.” Sometimes, we just don’t know where to turn or what to do. Services and supports are out there, to varying degrees, but they can be difficult if not impossible to navigate unless you have someone who can show you the ropes.
In the past several months I’ve gathered stories about people who have Down syndrome that have fabulous jobs. Their parents were able to find a talent or skill and turn it into an opportunity. Full disclosure: I’m a little jealous. I know not everyone operates on the same level. Not all people, with or without Down syndrome, could to the jobs that these people have. The thing that inspires me is that the parents were able to find solutions. I’ve been thinking a great deal about how we can support each other to make this the norm, rather than the exception to the rule. I’ve been thinking about WHY we settle – for ourselves and our children.
Here are a few of the people who have turned their passions into “meaningful jobs.”
- As a 2004 graduate of Eldorado High School in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Tim was elected homecoming king by the highest margin of votes in school history.
- In the fall of 2004, Tim moved to Roswell, New Mexico to attend Eastern New Mexico University.
- Tim spent much of 2009 and 2010 living aboard a sailboat with his parents and traveling throughout the Bahamas.
- After observing the effect Tim had on Red Robin restaurant and its customers, an idea emerged regarding Tim owning his own restaurant. In May of 2010, a lease was signed for a facility in Albuquerque and a construction company was hired for tenant improvements.
He wants to be ‘a professional’
Creative Thinking and Not Settling
I would like to have a brainstorming session on how we can help each other discover the hidden talent and passion in each of us and our children. We all have something to contribute…. Anyone interested?