For this young woman, the road to independence includes a competitively-paid job
Debra is a 33-year-old-woman living a full life who just happens to have some intellectual challenges.
Those challenges, however, have not been a barrier to her living an independent life with part-time day support from LifeShare, New Hampshire, and residential support from a seacoast-area provider.
Probably one of the most positive effects on Debra’s independence is her job at Phillips Academy, Exeter, where she was recently recognized for her 15 years of service in the Academy’s kitchen and dining halls. Debra holds a competitively-paid job, earning the same as someone without disabilities.
Debra is fortunate that Phillips Academy was at the forefront of inclusive employment when she started working there all those years ago. According to federal officials, an estimated 450,000 people with developmental disabilities nationwide spend their days in sheltered workshops and other segregated programs.
Phillips Dining Hall Manager Dan Ferland notes how important it is to have an inclusive staff. “We hire (individuals) based on character and fit for the job,” he said. “Everybody here is treated like family and they are welcoming to each new staff member.”
Debra looks forward to the three days each week she works in the dining hall and kitchen at Phillips.
“They like having me there (working at Phillips) because I am a good worker,” she said. “Everyone is good to me. I work hard and fast.”
Ferland agrees. “Debra stays busy, taking on tasks without being told.”
“If someone can do the job,” he added, “they should be considered for a position like anyone else.”
The best things about her job, according to Debra? “I have friends here, I get a free lunch (pizza─ always),” she said, “and I like getting paid.”
Debra is saving her money to reach her goal of purchasing a new electronic tablet, which she uses as an assistive communication device to learn to read.
Debra demonstrates her independence daily, making decisions about her own life, such as community activities which she chooses to participate (She is a bingo volunteer and a member of a weekly self-advocacy group.). She is a long-time participant of Special Olympics, where she competes in bowling, softball, and track/relay.
Her days are filled with other activities such as exercising, bowling, and pottery, where a LifeShare LifeCoach supports her community engagement and provides transportation.
With 15 years of work experience at Phillips Academy, Debra is an effective employee on her own and does not require the assistance of a LifeShare employment specialist.
Said Alison Wright, LifeShare associate director of activity and employment, “In the past year, Debra has become more outgoing and social. She has a great variety of ‘natural supports’ (personal associations and relationships developed in the community), and always has a ready smile.”
“Debra has had many obstacles in her path,” Wright added, “but she never allows herself to be one of them.”
Debra took a large step on independence road this past year when she chose to stay in New Hampshire to be near her friends while her parents retired to Florida.
“It feels good to be independent,” she said.
Debra takes an airplane on her own to visit her folks several times a year and feels very comfortable negotiating air travel and all that it entails.
Competitive employment has been a major LifeShare focus since its founding in 1995. In fact, LifeShare has become a leader in the competitive employment of individuals with disabilities. Fifty-one percent of individuals LifeShare supports in the Granite State hold competitively paid positions. The national average for integrated, competitive employment for individuals who have intellectual/developmental disabilities, according to StateDate.info, is just 18%.
LifeShare job coaches work with individuals who have paid employment as one of their primary goals to help them obtain, train for, and maintain their job.
Employers benefit, too, when they hire an inclusive, diverse staff. They are able to maintain employees in high-turnover positions, access a pool of pre-screened job candidates, and gain a dedicated, passionate, and loyal employee. Inclusive workplaces have also been shown to increase overall team morale.
Many companies are unaware that publicly-funded employment services like those LifeShare provides are free of cost to the employer. Additionally, employers may be eligible for Federal and State tax credits and other incentives (www.disability.gov)
For more information on LifeShare’s Employment Specialists, contact NH Adult Services at 603-625-8825 or NH@lifeshareusa.com.
(Top photo: Debra with Phillips Academy Dining Hall Manager Dan Ferland)