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Imagine, you’re 12 years old and never been invited to a birthday party or even a play date. In fact, you’ve never been included in any activities with the other kids at school. Why? Because you were born with an intellectual disability and none of the other children or their parents know how to speak to you or how to treat you. Instead of trying, they pretend you don’t exist.

Fast forward to 20 years in the future, you’re an adult now and you know that most adults have jobs and you want one too. Not for the money, but because it is a rite of passage, a way to be accepted as a productive member of society. After all, your brothers, sisters, cousins and the other adults you know are employed.

You get help from a job developer who specializes in working with adults with developmental disabilities and you finally get an offer after 6 months of filling out applications and interviewing. It’s your first week and you’re meeting co-workers and managers. As time goes on, fellow employees say hello when they see you, joke with you, sit down and eat their lunch across from you while asking you about your life. You love this place, this job, this company. Others think, “it’s just a stocking job.” But to you, it’s the first time in your life you are being accepted as an adult. You are truly part of the community. The best part of working is that you can finally buy your family holiday gifts.

This is the all too common scenario for people with disabilities. They are not expected to work and sometimes, even educated adults, will wonder why people with disabilities would want to work if they don’t have to. What would you do if you didn’t have a career? For most of us, our career is a large part of our lives. People with disabilities have the same desire to work and it is the mission and focus of Clearbrook to educate employers on the benefits and contributions of this underutilized work force.

Diversifying Your Workforce

At Clearbrook, we offer businesses a way to diversify their workforce through our Community Employment Program. Our mission is to assist businesses in enhancing their workflow by addressing unmet needs as well as employing individuals who want to work but, possibly, due to their disability, have not been afforded these opportunities.

Nowadays, employers are looking for ways to stay competitive and cost effective. Many companies are offering part time, job sharing and contract work to save money and keep employees happy. Two-thirds of the intellectually disabled population seek part time employment.

Historically, people with disabilities have received services in segregated settings. Twenty-five years ago, the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) was passed and only 20% of adults with disabilities are currently employed. Only 6% of adults with developmental disabilities are employed in the community. Illinois, the state in which I live, became an “Employment First,” state in 2013. The implications of this are clear; a sheltered workshop is the last place adults with disabilities should be. Employment is now an expectation for everyone.

As a job developer, it is even more important to start thinking about ways to get my consumers employed in the community. Finding positions for those individuals with more severe disabilities becomes my challenge and my goal.

Consulting Services

What Clearbrook offers businesses is expertise with a consultant at no cost to the employer. As an outsider, consultants can see what an employer may not. Traditionally, employers meet needs by bundling demands into job descriptions. Some of these tasks can create barriers for some job seekers. This leads to one way of employing adults with development disabilities: Customized Employment. With customized employment, some of those time consuming tasks performed by other workers can be unbundled and given to employees with disabilities. When employees use work time to complete tasks better done by a lower paid worker, it wastes time and money. As a consultant, specific job duties are negotiated with employers in order to customize the position. All work involves pay of commensurate wage. When you consider your current position, isn’t your job customized based on your unique strengths and talents? You simply did it after you were hired and became a valued employee.

Our mission in supporting employers is to assist with non-task related issues and how our clients can help in reducing problems. In addition, a job developer can collaborate with you on workplace solutions, introduce qualified candidates and assist with orientation and training of employees. The services of a job developer don’t end there. We meet with you and tour your business and spend time observing the work flow and focus on tasks that need to be done. Tasks show us where unmet needs exist, how work flows and potential options to increase productivity. We pay careful attention to your work culture, training procedures and how you want work to be done. We provide you with a needs assessment and target tasks that could be done more efficiently by one individual.

  • Are there tasks that are not completed within one business day or not completed at all?
  • Which tasks are other employees avoiding?
  • What task are needed to increase the workflow and productivity?

If a need is identified, the job analysis lays the foundation for the job description and a job developer can help you create an individualized job description that is tailored to meet the employer’s needs and the applicant’s contributions.

Another great benefit of working with a job developer? We continue working with you and the employee after the hire date to ensure successful integration into the workplace.

Benefits of Hiring Disabled Workers

Studies have shown that hiring workers with disabilities is not only the right thing to do but smart business. Workers with disabilities have shown to have reduced turnover rates. Adults with disabilities work hard to find a suitable job that they feel they will succeed in. Often times, our consumers remain long term, stable employees thus reducing employer costs of staff training and retention.

Another benefit of hiring a worker with disabilities? Ongoing support from the agency and the job developer that assisted in placing them. Businesses experience higher productivity rates due to innovative job restructuring as well as the ability to address unmet needs in tough economic times.

In the past, accommodations for workers with disabilities has been seen by employers as a potentially costly endeavor and a barrier to hiring those workers. However, most accommodations will benefit others in the workplace as well. Recently, I visited a large manufacturing company that is looking to hire individuals with disabilities. The employer was proactive in making changes to assist the potential new employees in feeling more comfortable. They installed signs with pictures to minimize the need for reading. As it turns out, several of their current employees who do not speak English were assisted in navigating the warehouse by the pictures on the posted signs. By doing this, they were meeting the needs of other employees as well.

Thirty years ago, the only jobs available to adults with disabilities might be cleaning washrooms or other unappealing jobs. Look at how far society has come in not only employing but accepting individuals with disabilities into the workforce. As a whole, we need to move away from using the word, “accommodation” and move towards “customized employment”. Customized employment benefits everyone by focusing on their unique abilities and assigning tasks to those most qualified to complete them.

Finally, consumers like to see their own experiences reflected in the businesses they frequent. Who hasn’t been touched by a person with a disability? When customers see people with disabilities working, they are more likely to shop at that establishment and your new employee attracts his family, friends and acquaintances to your business. For a small investment, you could be attracting an entirely new customer base.