Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

A Place to Be, Not a Place to Go: Employment Services Are as Diverse as Human Beings Are. Just as One Job, One Method of Learning, One Environment Is Not for Any Population, the Same Is True for People with Disabilities

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

A Place to Be, Not a Place to Go: Employment Services Are as Diverse as Human Beings Are. Just as One Job, One Method of Learning, One Environment Is Not for Any Population, the Same Is True for People with Disabilities

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Nearly 20 years ago, when I was looking for a summer job during college, I applied to be a Developmental Technician at a local provider agency. At the ripe old age of 19, the interviewer asked me if I knew what they did there. My response was "No, not really". She continued by stating their agency served people with developmental disabilities, and the job I was applying for would consist of providing personal care, implementing behavior management programs, and assisting people with seizure disorders and other medical concerns. She asked me if I was still interested and I replied "Certainly!" If I had anything, it was confidence, even though it was sometimes faked confidence.

I fell in love that summer. That statement sounds like something out of a book or a movie, doesn't it? But it is the only way I know to describe the feeling that overtook me. Looking back now, I wonder if I realized then that my life was forever changed by the men and women I began caring for. I think I did realize it. I realized it the first time I rode in the back of an ambulance with someone who was cyanotic from a lack of oxygen. I realized it when individuals requested me to lift them, transfer them, and bathe them, because they trusted me. I realized it when I fell in urine during a one person transfer. I realized it when I would go from crisis prevention holds to redirection techniques in 4.2 seconds. I will be forever grateful that my destiny led me to serve the most loving and compassionate people ever created.

After surviving college, I applied for a job in management and, again, my life was forever changed. I went from the front lines, hands-on, data recording, goal-oriented employee, to the desk-sitting, advice-giving, monitoring, newby-kid manager. While it took a while for me to become comfortable with changing hats, one thing was becoming more and more evident. The field of developmental disabilities is as multi-faceted, varied and intricate as anything imaginable. With the wide spectrum of cognitive disabilities and scores of co-occurring disorders, I cannot fathom anyone ever being deemed as an expert in this field. I guess with experience comes a certain level of expectation of expertise, perhaps developed within a portion of the field.

Most of my management and professional experience has centered on vocational opportunities and supported employment for people with significant disabilities. While an expert I will never be, I welcome this opportunity to share some thoughts and experiences about supporting people in employment settings. My opinions will not be applauded by some, certainly not by those hired to support government ideology of the newest solution or fad for employing people with disabilities. Consultants with their 10 steps to customized employment will not appreciate my viewpoint. Most certainly, advocates for full community inclusion will be disappointed. But as I have learned, none of those people keep me up at night. The people I want to impress, those that I want to lasso the moon for, are the people with disabilities that I proudly serve.

Employment services are as diverse as human beings are. Just as one job, one method of learning, one environment is not for any population, the same is true for people with disabilities. How many times have we witnessed well-meaning professionals that believe they have found the silver bullet? Attention Everyone: There is NO SILVER BULLET. What is important is informed choice, a willingness to take a few risks, and a safety net of support. It is just fine if a person chooses to volunteer, or work in an agency's training center, or work in group employment, or work in competitive employment, or be an entrepreneur, or do a little bit of all of these. I am sure you get my point. Living is about living, not about fitting into some mold us professionals try to fit people into.

While a proponent of choice, I believe lives are only enriched and potential is only achieved, when informed choice is practiced. …

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