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Let's work on creating career ladders for people with disabilities; Guest column

Capital - 10/6/2018

Similar to any person seeking their first job, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are also deserving of job exploration, training and opportunities to learn and grow.

I'm sure many of us have known or were once that high school graduate who was a little timid with their first job, uncertain in our confidence to communicate, afraid to make mistakes, yet eager to learn and do a great job. This scenario is not any different for a person with an intellectual or developmental disability.

Each year for the last five years, approximately a dozen new interns - all people with I/DD - arrive at Anne Arundel Medical Center to participate in a 10-month Project Search program to learn about the job roles in each of the departments, meet and work with staff, and gain new skills with the goal of obtaining a viable job after graduation.

Chris Knapp, who completed Project Search this past June and is supported by The Arc Central Chesapeake Region, discovered that he enjoyed working in the food services department and was hired on as a part-time employee in August.

According to his supervisor, Milton Somerville, Chris takes his job very seriously. "He arrives on time, gets straight to work and is very focused. His job coach is very patient with him, and when he gets frustrated with a task, they work through the challenge together."

Chris is part of the team that helps keep the food department's operations running smoothly. In addition to helping with stocking dishes, Chris cleans the food carts and sets up food trays with beverages - a job not every employee would find interesting, but one Chris enjoys.

Somerville understands the value of hiring a person with I/DD.

"I didn't judge Chris by his disability and instead gave him a chance because of his ability to do the work based on his internship training. Chris is one of the most loyal and dedicated employees I have worked with. "

While the AAMC will retain and hire a few of its interns, many interns transfer their skills for employment opportunities with other local businesses. A great example is Live! Casino & Hotel.

The new casino hotel is another model company that supports workforce equity for people with I/DD. It has also been a significant hire site for many of its job-training graduates. Since Live! Casino & Hotel's opening, it has employed graduates for food services, the front lobby, restaurants and bars, the casino and more.

National Disability Employment Awareness Month is being celebrated throughout October, and we give kudos to our partner hire sites such as the AAMC, Live! Casino & Hotel, as well as other businesses for modeling a diverse workforce by considering all people in our community as job candidates.

As we continue to support people with disabilities to live self-directed and self-sufficient lives, we should also focus on the long-term value of creating career ladders for them. Most of us were not born prepared for the jobs we seek and are hired for, but with proper training, education and support, we are able to reach our career goals.

This is the mindset that we want members of The Arc CCR, their families, friends and the community to maintain.

People with I/DD can and should set a goal of attaining a fulltime job that doesn't supplement government assistance, but instead replaces it so that each person can become gainfully employed with benefits and a salary that covers the cost of living, entertainment, vacations and more.

As new businesses open its doors and current businesses search for new candidates, we want to facilitate a win-win for people with I/DD to have an opportunity for not only employment but also a career, all while supporting the workforce needs of businesses in our community. It starts with our investment in candidates with I/DD by offering them job training and a chance to explore the different types of job opportunities.

It's supported by businesses reaching out to The Arc CCR and sharing their human resources needs. The Arc CCR closes the loop by matching businesses with an employee, who is paired with a job coach who is there to ensure the employee is meeting the job requirements of the employer.

The result: a diverse trained, coached and dedicated workforce of loyal employees with a strong work ethic and willingness to learn.

Jonathon Rondeau is the CEO of The Arc Central Chesapeake Region based in Annapolis.

Credit: Jonathan Rondeau - Jonathon Rondeau is the CEO of The Arc Central Chesapeake Region based in Annapolis.

 
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