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Providing information, education, and training to build knowledge, develop skills, and change attitudes that will lead to increased independence, productivity, self determination, integration and inclusion (IPSII) for people with developmental disabilities and their families.

The Jobs Challenge for People With Disabilities

Competitive Wages, Direct Employment, in Minnesota

Individuals with developmental disabilities are being directly employed in a broad range of business fields and a wide range of positions in both public and private sectors. In all instances, the experiences of employees and employers have been overwhelmingly positive – employees are in jobs of their choosing with full benefits; and the businesses are thriving, recognizing the contributions that a truly diversified workforce can bring to their customers.

Closed Captioned
Run time 13:35

Narrator: Whether apparent or not, each day there are people with disabilities hard at work, serving employers and the public. But despite abilities and performance, unemployment among people with developmental disabilities is far above that experienced by the general population.

Jeff Pearson: I think that things are improving at, not an acceptable rate, but at a rate that says there's progress being made. There are jobs there that could be performed reasonably easily with very small adaptations for adults with developmental disabilities.

They need to have a champion in the workplace from the general population of their workforce that will act as a champion, and take charge of working people into their workforce. In case after case that we've seen, there always seems to be a champion. Wherever there is successful integration of adults with disabilities into the workforce.

Narrator: The duties that may be involved run the gamut, with a sense of diligence and responsibility leading the way.

Don Alman: I am very proud of myself for having that ability to take on more responsibilities. Northview sends out little reminder cards, so I attach all the address labels on there and mail them out. From time to time, I see charts out of order as far as the alphabet, so I go back and redo them so they're all in alphabetical order. I am able to take some of the burden off their daily workload. I am full of energy. And I'll do whatever it takes to get the job done.

Dr. Jeffrey Norsted: I had to actually sell this to my partners and to my staff. It's kind of unusual. And I had a meeting oh, Don's been with us over a year so about a year and a half ago, we had an all-day staff meeting. And I introduced the fact that we're going to have an employee here that's gonna help us out in the business area and what Don's job would be and whatnot. The "disabled" word has to come up. You know, he has personal disabilities, and what is disability? Always, people question that. You know, and I said, "You know, just relax." 'Cause I said, you know, well, what if he can't do this? And what if it messes things up for us? And I said, "The reality is, he's gonna make you happy every day that you did something good." "And we're gonna all work together and help out." Well, I says, "And next year, you're gonna be finding jobs for Don to do," And that's exactly what came out.

Narrator: Office settings also benefit from hiring people with disabilities, including the Nilan Johnson Lewis law firm in downtown Minneapolis, where Jackie Kirkpatrick is employed.

Jackie Kirkpatrick: I help the law librarian out with some librarian stuff. They're in the right spot so when they come to look for something they need to pull something, they can find it.

David Lassegard: Yeah, Jackie, she's very happy here, been here five-plus years, and has no plans on leaving, so...But she's meeting their expectations here and beyond, I would say, so... Working a lot with the law librarian at the firm, shelving books, filing paperwork. So that can be a little bit different each time in so I just help to make sure Jackie understands what needs to be done. So then make sure that they're done the right way

She lives in her own apartment and gets to and from work on her own using the light rail and visits many family members using the public transportation outside of work. You know, go shopping on her own, and so, yes, she's a very, very independent person.

Kim Ess: Jackie has just been spectacular. You know, she is very independent and self-sufficient, and has really done just a great job for us. And it's always been important for us to make sure that we have a diverse work environment.

I think we started out with some general cleaning types of things, and now we've got her filing, and we've got her going off-site to do drop-offs and pick-ups for us, and she's really, really progressed in what she's been able to handle. It's been fun to watch.

Narrator: Increasingly, people with developmental disabilities are employed directly, with greater independence and competitive wages. Nick Wright is a regular employee at the large Social Security Administration district office in St. Paul.

Nick Wright: I work on, it's, like, clerical work. I send letters out to the claimants. I also work in the mailroom, sorting mail, put them in the slots where they belong, and I also do some of the un-coded mail that sometimes there is. I really enjoy the variety of the job.

Mohamud Haguf: Nick Wright is a contributing member of our team. And one of the things that we like to provide our employees is a place where they feel valued, and their contribution is recognized. But we also have to have an inclusive environment where the public is reflected in our workforce. Nick is gaining not only confidence, but more experience and knowledge about the critical day-to-day operation of his job. We feel that he is growing in his job and making progress.

Narrator: Some organizations employ substantial numbers of people with disabilities. Securian has nine individuals with disabilities at various locations within its St. Paul headquarters offices. Scott works in the high-tech mail center.

Scott Strohman: I mean, I pick up and I deliver mail. And I do A3 and I do A4. I've done that for a few years. And then I help with a... They have a machine, you know, that seals envelopes. And I also put stamps on them. It's not technically part of it, but I just do that to help out, you know? It gets it done quicker, and then that way; it doesn't take them as long to do.

Kraig Rule: Scott has actually done four different functions in this area in the mail center. He's delivered mail to all but four floors throughout the two buildings. So when you look at the 400 building, it has 21 floors. The 401 has 13 floors. He's done all but four of those floors. Between incoming mail and then also inter-office mail, about 15,000 pieces of mail per day. On top of that, between his runs, he has to help out with catching mail, with resorting the mail, folding, inserting, so it's their abilities that we look at more than anything. We try to match their skill sets to a job, to a function, and then we train them on that function.

Barb Baumann: The associates that I've had work in my area, they show up on time or early. They are here consistently. And the thing I love is, they love their job. They appreciate their job. They love their job. And we love having them here.

Narrator: Local government also provides employment opportunities for people with challenges. Rodney Griffin, who has cerebral palsy, has worked for the city of Minnetonka for ten years.

Rodney Griffin: It's an exceptional place to work. I scan documents and sources on microfiche, and paper documents. Just those two things.

David Maeda: I supervise Rodney Griffin, who's a person with disabilities. And he has a very important role in our city of helping with our conversion of microfiche to our digital document management system. Staff love working with Rodney. I've enjoyed getting to know Rodney as his supervisor, and he is a valuable part of the city workforce.

It's very important to provide good service to your customer, that you're reflective of the customer you're serving. So as diverse as you can get in your workforce, I think that really helps with the service you provide. To provide the best customer service, I would highly encourage people to consider people with disabilities as employees.

Narrator: Obtaining employment opportunities remains a key objective of vocational rehabilitation services, part of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. Steve Kuntz notes that there are multiple points of entry for state employment.

Steve Kuntz: To me, it's all about abilities and skills. And the disability is really a secondary issue. We assist managers, the H.R., the leadership within these agencies of understanding the value of hiring people with disabilities. I think from a manager's perspective, working with an individual with a disability, many times, it's communication, communication, communication.

It's really talking with that individual about what their needs are, what the expectations... So many times employers are afraid to hire an individual with a disability because they don't want to have to let them go. And really working with them to have that expectation and treat them like they would any other employee and be respectful of them in regards to their disability.

Narrator: Retailing is an area where the employment of people with disabilities is now becoming commonplace. An outstanding example is Brad Brown at Walgreen’s in St. Paul. Who is a cashier and on track for continuing advancement.

Brad Brown: Well, when they walk in the door, you say hello. And then when they're ready to check out, you bring them up to the register, and then you ask them if they found everything all right, and if they didn't, you help them find what they're looking for before you check them out. I cashier. I do some stocking. And I help customers basically, customer service.

When you're doing ad tags, you got to look at the numbers. You go to look at the WIC numbers, and you got to make sure that they match. 'Cause if they don't match, then it's not the WIC number that it's supposed to be, and that's not where it goes.

Cathy Anderson: Brad came in for an interview. And he just really sold me. I mean, it was just his presence, the way he dressed. He was very focused. He started as a cashier, and he still is mostly a cashier. He does stock work. On warehouse day, he does put the product on the shelf where it belongs. He has daily contact with all customers that come in the store. He'll ask if they need help, and he'll go over and help them get something off the wall or down the aisle. He knows the store. He's very customer oriented. You know, and that's part of the job.

Narrator: Walgreen's national manager of outreach and employee services, Deb Russell, said the company is committed to employing people with disabilities across the country.

Deb Russell: People with disabilities are just as or better than the individuals without disabilities who are doing our jobs. We need people to be efficient and effective. And that's what we've found so far with our pilot programs in the stores.

Many stores, I hear the stories that the customers are seeking out the employees they know have disabilities. They want that individual to serve them. All of our distribution centers took on the charge of looking to find partners so they could intentionally recruit individuals with disabilities. We'll continue, as we have opportunities, to be able to offer them to people with and without disabilities. And increase the inclusiveness of our workforce.

Narrator: It's not only drugstores, but retail soft goods as well.

Rachel Metz: I process items in the back room that need to be processed. I like to help people out processing and putting things out onto the floor: kitchen items, bath and beauty, candles and stuff, yeah.

Barbara McGregor: They are there to help receive the truck and process the truck and get the merchandise ready to go out to the sales floor. Rachel has also done... When they're finished in the back room getting the merchandise ready, she is able to come out to the sales floor and help merchandise some of the new product. I never have to make a phone call and say, "Where are you today?" So... Reliable, dependable definitely at the top of the list.

Narrator: Not all are employed by others. Some have their own businesses. David Quilleash is a management consultant.

David Quilleash: One of my personal focuses throughout my career has been to work with business professionals, and I.T. professionals and the various customer constituencies that they serve. I try to help people who don't often do a good job of speaking each other's language to understand each other and deliver an effective result.

Narrator: The challenge remains opening up employment opportunities for people with developmental disabilities and reducing the great imbalance in joblessness. Creatively remedying the problem will come with both vigorous efforts to ensure that people with developmental disabilities are not arbitrarily excluded and by spreading the concept that employers should remember to focus on one's abilities, the elements that can truly benefit a business. That will enable people with disabilities to benefit as well and make greater contributions to our communities.

©2019 The Minnesota Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities
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The GCDD is funded under the provisions of P.L. 106-402. The federal law also provides funding to the Minnesota Disability Law Center,the state Protection and Advocacy System, and to the Institute on Community Integration, the state University Center for Excellence. The Minnesota network of programs works to increase the IPSII of people with developmental disabilities and families into community life.