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Supported Employment Training Project

a project of the Human Development Institute at the University of Kentucky

Supported Employment Stories

Supported Employment, just like all employment, is fluid, changing over time. Employment can be a great equalizer and unifier. Or, it can be a divider and unjust discriminator. In other words, all jobs are not created equal. Employment in itself is not enough. Good Supported Employment stories can awaken imaginations and enliven new thinking – seeing the best in people and trying previously unrecognized possibilities. The following stories illustrate positive principles in practice. These stories should not be remarkable, but ordinary. They’re not perfect but works in progress – like all good employment. If you have a good Supported Employment story you’d like to share, then please contact Milton Tyree,

Alex – Transitioning from School to Work

Alex began his work at one of Jefferson County Public School’s bus compounds while still a high school student. Job fit is an especially important consideration, and fortunately, Alex’s Employment Coordinator, Stefanie, recognized this. Rather than plopping Alex into any available job, she devoted time to know Alex – understanding his interests and talents as well as things that need to be in place for him to be successful. (If students are arbitrarily “placed” in jobs, without attention to typical employment motivators*, then they may unwittingly learn that they don’t like to work, don’t want to work…)

*1- Work doing things that reflect interests and talents, and 2- fair pay for work performed.

Stefanie discovered that Alex had a unique ability to memorize numbers, and he also knew some things about cars, trucks, and buses. Plus he had an interest in automotive keys. So where might Alex’s interests and abilities be marketable? Enter the Jefferson County Bus Compound. Stefanie negotiated work where Alex located and provided bus keys to drivers. Ultimately, this meant that Alex memorized one hundred twenty-five bus numbers/keys and matched these with drivers. (“Number twenty-six; here are your keys.”) Alex also assisted with custodial duties. Working limited hours while he was a student, Alex nonetheless had his foot in the door for engaging and interesting work – a place he could contribute and learn about good employment.

Now for the “what’s next” part of the story: Since Alex was in a fitting job, and because he would need some level of continuing support, his Office of Vocational Rehabilitation counselor referred him to a Supported Employment program during his last semester in school. This way his Employment Specialist could get to know Alex and his co-workers, keeping things in place that are working well, while expanding possibilities.

Sandy and Jason, Alex’s Employment Specialists from Realizations, spent time at the bus compound seeking: 1) additional ways Alex could contribute, 2) a corresponding increase in hours, and 3) Alex becoming an employee of Jefferson County Public Schools. Recalling Alex’s interest in cars, buses, and trucks, Sandy negotiated new tasks, and increased hours for Alex assisting at the bus compound’s inspection stations: checking oil and fluids, brake testing, checks of lights and instruments, recording fuel usage, and placing signage on substitute buses – while continuing his earlier responsibilities. Also, Alex became a school district employee. Jason provides periodic support – much of which involves connecting Alex with co-workers, and heightening expectations about ways Alex can contribute.

Lessons learned: 1) Good employment experiences are important for all high school students; however, good employment experiences are essential for high school students with disabilities. 2) It’s not necessary that first jobs be the kind of work where a student ultimately finds his vocation or career. After all, it’s a first job. But it is necessary that the job fits the student and provides a positive experience, “a good taste” of employment. 3) When a Supported Employment program picks up support for a graduating student in an existing job (because it’s determined to be a good job) then a primary responsibility is seeking advancements.

Mallory – The Presumption of Employment

Groundhog coloring. Everywhere! It’s Tuesday morning, and Groundhog’s Day Eve is being observed in Ms. Paulette’s four-year-old class at Kids’ Haven by Sandy. Then, Ms. Mallory arrives. Groundhog coloring becomes passé. “Ms. Mallory’s here. It’s book time!”

Ms. Mallory wheels up to the front of the room. The coveted role of a page-turner is selected for the first story. “Pick me! Pick me!” (Unfortunately for the page-turner bidders, there’s no lobbying for this spot. Page-turners need to wait until their names appear in order on the list. This way everyone gets a turn working with Ms. Mallory.)

Her way of reading stories is not traditional. But traditional is still a concept that’s in the process of forming for this age group. Using a head switch connected to the computer, Ms. Mallory clicks the switch at the end of each pre-recorded page. The switch turns the page on the computer screen and signals a “beep.” The beep cues the 4-year-old page-turner, and the recorded voice simultaneously reads the new page.

The second book “Clifford, The Big Red Dog,” comes to a close. Storytime is over. There’s a rush to Ms. Mallory – kids anxious to show the morning’s groundhog artwork.

There was a time, not too far back when work for Mallory hadn’t been on the table. But to Sandy, an Employment Specialist with Realizations, it made all of the sense in the world. After all, Mallory is a young adult, and work is one of the things that happen for most young adults during the day. Mallory didn’t know what she wanted to do. So Sandy devoted time with Mallory — determined to discover her talents and interests.

Over time, it became apparent to Sandy that little ones were interested in Mallory, and Mallory was clearly amused by them. Sandy arranged to visit a childcare center, Kids’ Haven by Sandy, (no affiliation with Sandy the Employment Specialist) offering to perform a needs analysis – unobtrusively learning about what happens and looking for unmet needs. And if unmet needs are found, Sandy will suggest a solution. As things turned out, the teachers were frustrated that there were not enough hands on deck to read to the children as much as is desirable.

The rest is history. A customized job was negotiated for Mallory. Children get to hear more books. Mallory gets a job working with kids. And kids get to know Ms. Mallory, a teacher who reads aloud in a non-traditional way.

It’s important to note, that this is the beginning of Mallory’s employment story. Many chapters are still to be written. Mallory and Sandy are exploring additional employment, perhaps doing something similar to her work at Kids’ Haven by Sandy, or perhaps something different.

Lessons learned: 1) Employment is important for everyone to consider. 2) Kids are always learning something. Who belongs and who doesn’t? Who is like me, and who is different? Whom should I share my things with, or not? Little people can be immune to big people’s prejudice if introduced in a positive way to people, who for instance, read stories aloud in a non-traditional way. 3) Much learning is going on when Ms. Mallory is working — important learning for everyone involved.

Daniel – Follow-up, Networking, and Advancement

Daniel had a great job. Having worked in Dr. Lehocky’s office since 1999, things were looking good for Daniel. Filing patient charts, preparing employee time cards, collating materials for new patient charts, performing searches of clinic computer data for patient records, delivering office parcels, maintaining the inventory room, shredding obsolete records… Daniel was well respected by the clinic staff; his work was valued. But Mary Ellen, Daniel’s Employment Specialist, was restless. She saw Daniel as a man who could contribute even more and increase his income – broadening prospects for a fulfilling career. Daniel and his folks thought this sounded great. And even though much was known about Daniel’s interests and talents, everyone felt stuck when it came to thinking about seeking an additional job.

Mary Ellen suggested a job networking meeting as one way to generate new job ideas. She convened a group of people including family, friends, and service providers – all of whom had high expectations for Daniel. After a brief time for food, fellowship, and meeting one another, the process for the gathering was straightforward: 1) refining a desirable list of work conditions for Daniel, 2) tying these conditions to tasks, and finally 3) connecting the tasks to specific employers and contact people. Sixteen people were able to attend the meeting that was graciously hosted in the home Daniel shared with his parents. Wall-to-wall people; wall-to-wall ideas generated.

However, just as Mary Ellen and Daniel were getting started with the new employment connections generated in the job networking meeting, an employer contacted Mary Ellen’s agency, the Zoom Group. Ceridian needed someone to do work that was consistent with the kind of work Daniel was seeking.

Mary Ellen visited Ceridian, studied employer needs, and recommended Daniel. He was hired to duplicate and file information for Ceridian Stored Value Solutions – maintaining customer account records for their pre-paid gift card program. As Daniel is becoming proficient in these tasks, Mary Ellen is seeking additional ways Daniel can contribute to Ceridian.

Lessons learned – 1) Follow-up is a critical aspect of Supported Employment. Mary Ellen provided the spark for Daniel to seek advancements. 2) Networking is the primary way that people connect with fitting jobs. Sometimes an intentional gathering, like a job networking meeting, is needed to get things rolling. 3) Finally, it’s essential that organizations representing people with disabilities establish themselves as credible, dependable business partners. It’s great when the phone call originates with an employer seeking the right person for work they need accomplished.

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