by Erin Jerome
Employment First for People with Disabilities
It has been four years since Governor Chris Christie announced New Jersey’s involvement with Employment First, a national movement aiming to make integrated employment a priority for people of all abilities. As new policies and programs are rolled out to make jobs more accessible, we are challenged to approach new opportunities with a marked change in philosophy: that people with disabilities and special needs can and should work. The majority of people with disabilities do in fact express a desire to work, but less than five percent of working age are employed in New Jersey.
We spoke with Jennifer Joyce, Director of the Supports Program and Employment services, and Katelynne Collick, the Coordinator of Employment and Transition Services at the New Jersey Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD), to discuss how our state is overcoming barriers to equal opportunity employment.
“We need to start with the assumption that everyone can work. For some people, that’s big news,” said Joyce.
Who to Know
DDD, along with The Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services (DVRS) both work to provide certain job-related services. DVRS hosts workshops and job fairs and their One-Stop Career Centers are located throughout New Jersey. These, along with centers for independent living, provide information, support, and guidance in joining the workforce. The first stop should be DVRS, however if you’re a person with a disability that is Medicaid eligible, another option is to take advantage of DDD supported service providers (like Easterseals). These service providers can offer a catalog of services that focus on individual needs through pre-vocational training, career planning, and supported employment help. The division also does outreach to community partners, and along with New Jersey’s Business Action Center, is influencing the hiring practices of large and small businesses.
Joyce and Katelynne describe the pool of candidates that have disabilities as an untapped resource, and getting employers to recognize this is a process and a challenge. Some job coaches have seen success representing their clients with a video resume that showcases the applicant’s abilities.
“When [an employer] does see that, it’s hard to deny that they can do the job,” said Joyce.
Where to go?
The Boggs Center on Developmental Disabilities, part of Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, is a great local resource for information on employment, health, education, and community supports. You can read a guest post from the Instructor of Pediatrics and Director of Employment Programs and Aging and Disability, Margaret Gilbride, JD, CT on our blog, where she discusses transitions after high school education.
At the community level, bridging the gap between employers and the growing labor force with disabilities takes grassroots efforts and the support of small businesses. Federal policy changes are focusing in on helping individuals find integrated employment. This aligns perfectly with our mission as Easterseals New Jersey’s Employment Services continues to provide job skill training for our consumers and helps to place individuals at businesses in the community. Representation in larger companies is critical too. That’s why we are helping place people with special needs at corporations like Walmart and not just in roles with limited public interaction. We recently helped a program participant reach her goal of becoming a Walmart greeter!
In our mission of enriching the lives of people living with disabilities and special needs, we feel employment opportunities are essential. As attitudes shift to open the job market to people of all abilities, an extraordinary number will find occasion to thrive. Ms. Joyce recognizes this precipice, “We have not yet given people with disabilities the opportunity to try and to fail at different types of jobs.” Very few people end up staying in their first job. Switching careers and changing employment goals is a common occurrence as we grow and develop as workers and people. Providing opportunities to try new things and find a job that fits an individual’s particular skill set is all part of this new effort to get and keep people with disabilities employed.
The profits of employment are far greater than a paycheck, and those combined favors are often steps toward
independence. As our state progresses in policy, Easterseals works to provide the services and information that allow our program participants to hit their stride and meet their goals, at their pace.
If you or someone you know has a disability and is looking for work, have them take a look at Easterseals’ employment services at the links below:
or call us at (732)257-6662
The Boggs Center on Developmental Disabilities
DDD Supports Program Manual -See section 17 for qualifications