Thomas was awarded a badge at work today for his 4 years of employment at Lowe’s Home Improvement! He was so happy. He loves his job, his co-workers, job coaches and customers. We often run into his customers when we are out and about in the community doing other things and he gets so excited about seeing them!
Thomas was able to secure this job through the King County School 2 Work program. They had a pilot program several years ago in which they worked with students that would have been considered the more “difficult to place” in community jobs. I’m so glad to say that we were able to appeal to allow Thomas to participate in the program. Thomas was also the only one in his group to have a job before they “graduated.” While he still works for the same company, the job has changed as he has gained skills and they have discovered the great abilities he has which he has put to good use there.
Supported employment (or Community Integrated Employment – CIE) is one option that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities can choose to utilize if they want to try to work. Supported employment is very individualized and may take many months to find a job that is the right fit for the person . Job supports are also individualized – some people need 1:1 support throughout their working experience and others may just need a job coach to check in once a week to once a month.
Supported employment is ideal for Thomas. He also lives in supported living so he has private transportation to and from work each morning for his hand-to-hand transfer from care-giving staff to job coach. Given that Thomas also has medical treatments that he needs 3 x week, his care-giving staff then pick him up from work and take him to his doctor appointments. This makes a full morning for Thomas – he’s ready for lunch by the time he gets back home.
Thomas does earn a bit above minimum wage in his job which is paid by his employer. The funds for this are funneled from the Federal/State government through the county which pays the vendors for the job supports. With Thomas typically working 7-9 hours a week, he works more hours than average for someone with his support needs.
While this is a great choice for Thomas, it is not for everyone. We need to keep alternative choices and opportunities available for those with differing needs and skills. For instance, there is group supported employment which many people prefer. Often times the employees in these jobs may make less than minimum wage with a special certificate issues from the state (they are typically called 14 c certificates) Many people prefer these jobs since they are with their friends and enjoy the group experience too.
Our state has already abolished all pre-vocational types of jobs but in other states these may still be a choice. We need to keep these alternative choices available for those who choose this type of job training. We can’t talk about person centered planning and then remove choices.
I need to add that is it only due to the “village” that supports Thomas that he is able to be so successful in his achievements: His village is his family and friends, Provail (employment vendor), Alpha Supported Living (supported living agency) in addition to his co-workers at Lowe’s.