The stories of individuals with disabilities wanting to work at competitive jobs (“How Minnesota fails the disabled,” Part 1 of the “A Matter of Dignity” series, Nov. 8) are sobering reminders that much more needs to be done to support their goals and dreams.
The desires and hopes expressed in this story are held by many more individuals than just those interviewed. We know, however, that hiring more individuals with disabilities is possible, and we know that many individuals and agencies share this view. Since government agencies, advocates, service providers, individuals, families, schools, employers and people with disabilities all have a role and an interest in seeing greater employment in our communities, we all bear responsibility for making that happen. The article discusses the problem in detail, so I won’t spend any more time examining it. Instead, I propose the following ways we can all work together on solutions. I’m sure that our partners can offer other suggestions.
1. Implement the policy approved by Minnesota state agencies that employment is the first and preferred option for people with disabilities. Focus on one person, one job at a time.
2. This statewide policy, formally called Employment First, calls for decisions that people with disabilities make about employment to be based on informed choice. People in state agencies who support people in making informed choices must all be trained to communicate clearly to those they serve the message that work is possible and that individuals and families can take steps to make it a reality.
3. Train family members and guardians across the state about the possibilities for work, and inform them that their loved one can be better off economically in paid employment and still receive needed government benefits. In the past year, our agency has made it a priority to hold statewide and Twin Cities-based educational events with our partners to expand this awareness among families and people with disabilities.
4. Give people with disabilities and their families greater control over the funding they receive for services, so they can allocate more resources toward gaining jobs in the community.
5. Train educators, direct support staff members, their managers, and rehabilitation professionals in practices that have been documented as successful ways to increase competitive employment and raise earnings.
6. Assess people with disabilities according to their strengths, not disabilities, and create plans for finding jobs that are built around those strengths and skills, as well as the interests they already have.
7. Provide paid job experiences for young people in their grade school and teen years to build job skills, work habits and work history. It’s never too early to start planning for a son’s or a daughter’s life in the workforce.
8. Engage business leaders who have successfully hired people with disabilities in a statewide campaign to champion the cause and share their positive experiences with other business leaders in Minnesota.
9. Bring together business leaders, families, self-advocates, educators, service providers and ordinary citizens to address and resolve known job barriers (such as access to reliable transportation) in their regions and local communities.
10. Change our public policies and funding sources so they place more emphasis on and create greater incentives to getting people hired in competitive jobs.
11. Gather statewide data on employment outcomes, then assist stakeholders in regions where more progress is needed. Help those stakeholders improve access to job services and resources so employment outcomes improve.
None of us is responsible for implementing every possible solution, but all of us are responsible for those areas where we can make a difference. Let’s all do our part to address an issue on which we all can agree: the need and desire for more of our citizens with disabilities to secure competitive work in our communities.
Don Lavin is executive director of The Arc Minnesota, which advocates for the rights and inclusion of people with developmental disabilities throughout the life span.