Tuesday, April 26, 2011

How The Recession Has Impacted AtWork! & People With Disabilities

The economic recession has impacted AtWork! and the people we serve in two ways: the amount of resources available to serve them and the job opportunities available for people seeking employment.

With less resources and fewer employers hiring, AtWork! struggled in 2010 to keep people with disabilities employed and find new jobs for people who are looking. We placed 14 people in jobs in 2010 (40% less than the previous 2 years). In order to meet the demand, we need to place 50 each year. 16 people lost jobs in 2010, the majority to lay-offs. This is the highest job loss we have experienced in 10 years and the first time it exceeded placements.

Jobs are vital to the economic well-being of the people we serve and their families. In addition, the loss of skills, confidence and self-esteem can be devastating. We see increased isolation, behavior regression, and deterioration of mental health when people lose their jobs and remain unemployed long-term. Families become impoverished when essential income is lost.

AtWork!’s largest commercial contract in our packaging and assembly business ended last fall because the customer changed processes and no longer needed our product. As a result, 50 people have reduced hours of service (some by more than half. Everyone who works in our shop experienced significant lose in wages. 15 individuals have not had paid work in more than 6 months. We have started a new business to provide more employment opportunities. The start-up is slower than we would like largely due to the economy. We hope to create job opportunities for 12 people by the end of this year.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

AtWork! Honors Drugstore.com as Supporter of the Year

AtWork!’s relationship with Drugstore.com and ultimately Margaret’s employment began with old fashioned networking. An AtWork! staff person networking at an event, handed out his card and talked about opportunities for people with disabilities. Jim Cunningham of Drugstore.com happened to receive one of those cards. Thinking about his company’s success in hiring people with disabilities at its distribution center, he had the idea to find similar opportunities at company headquarters and gave AtWork! a call.

The first step was to test the skills of AtWork! clients using work trials - AtWork! clients did work for the company in a very controlled setting to see if the projects and tasks were a good fit. Clients performing work trials were exposed to an office environment in a high rise building giving them the opportunity to evaluate their own comfort in the work setting and their interest and skill in performing the job tasks. Over the course of a couple of months AtWork! clients and their job coaches came to Drugstore.com’s corporate offices in downtown Bellevue to package special kits, label, and attach price stickers.

AtWork! Employment Consultants conducted a workplace analysis with Jim and Brooke Newman of Drugstore.com looking for tasks that were necessary and would benefit the company that simply were not getting done. Several ideas emerged including cleaning break rooms, keeping conference rooms neat and orderly, delivering packages and stocking office supplies. Two or three AtWork! clients with skills that matched the job duties were referred and Margaret was chosen to try out the position.

Margaret proved to be the ideal candidate. She is a very hard worker. She is always happy and fits well into the company culture. Most importantly, she can do the required tasks well. Margaret has worked at Drugstore.com for over a year. Her job coach works with Jim and Brooke to find simple accommodations that keep Margaret productive, like an elevator key card that allows her to figure out which floor she needs to go to next, and timers in the break rooms that let her know it is time to move on to the next task. In the beginning the job coach was with her every hour she worked., By developing natural supports from her co-workers, her coach now only comes for half an hour a week, just to check in.

Margaret is a regular employee. She works two - three hour shifts a week, cleaning the break rooms and stocking the office supply cupboards. Soon, she may move to 3 days a week and add some other tasks to her list of responsibilities such as cleaning conference rooms or delivering packages. Margaret feels valued, she has co-workers that she likes and that like her, she has her own cubicle, she earns a paycheck, and contributes to the success of her employer.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Barriers People With Disabilities Encounter Trying to Access Services

Many adults with disabilities have experienced cuts in benefits so that their access to dental care, physical and occupational therapy, and other therapies has been significantly impacted. Some of our clients report difficulty getting adequate health care, particularly dental care. Mental health services have been reduced for some. State-funded employment services are in jeopardy and no new clients can enter service without a federal home and community based waiver. Even those with waiver funding are finding capacity of providers is limited due to budget cuts and it is difficult to find a provider with an opening. A recent list of eligible clients disseminated by King County DDD had 40 people with waiver funding currently looking for service. Students coming out of high school who need support to transition to a job are not getting those supports unless they are already on the waiver. Those families with working and aging parents caring for an adult child with disabilities are the individuals most likely to be receiving state-only funding, whose services are most in jeopardy, and are least likely to get services in the near future.

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Friday, April 8, 2011

The Washington State House Proposal Intends To Reform The State’s Existing, Nationally Recognized Supported Employment Program

The Community Employment Alliance opposes the House proposal for reducing the Supported Employment Program for people with developmental disabilities.

The House proposal intends to “reform” the State’s existing, nationally recognized Supported Employment Program by reducing funding by 44%, and implementing an antiquated program, “Alternatives to Employment”. We believe the House proposal presumes savings through this policy and budget shift that are erroneous, and based upon unconfirmed assumptions. The following points describe the inaccuracies in the House proposal:

- Alternatives to Employment (Day Programs) will cost money to create as they do not currently exist in Washington State. Alternatives to Employment programs will require large facilities, increased overhead and maintenance for running day-time institutions. The proposed savings are based upon the assumption that services can begin immediately for 1,800 new clients not currently in service. Programs and infrastructure to deliver these services will take months, if not years to develop. The financial investment and ramp-up time to create new programs are not being considered. The administrative costs to DSHS / DDD to implement this change are also not being considered.

- The House proposal assumes between 25% and 35% of individuals served in employment will want the new Alternatives to Employment program. We believe this is an erroneous assumption, and not based upon any survey or gathering of accurate client data. Developmental disabilities self-advocates, parents, and advocacy groups all testified against this proposal at the Ways & Means Committee hearing on April 4th.

-No stakeholder group is publicly advocating for this proposal. Stakeholders are advocating for the least restrictive, most progressive and efficient program — community employment.

- The House proposal assumes individuals will leave long-term care services (Adult Day Health ADH) for the surported less costly Alternative to Employment program. It gives individuals a choice to ADH services when entry to these services has been legislatively restricted to those needing certain medical treatments and therapies.

- Day programs are not integrated in the community. They are grouped services that isolate and segregate people with disabilities. The equivalent of Alternatives to Employment (Day Programs) is returning people back into institutions. This proposal will create ‘mini-institutionalized settings’ in our State.

- Employment is an investment that off sets costs for the long-term. Congregate care has no return on investment. The Division of Developmental Disabilities’ data refutes the claim that Alternatives to Employment will cost the State less money. The only savings may be in the very short-term. Savings are highly unlikely if the costs of developing and administering a new program are considered. Long-term, the data proves supported employment costs less.

- Special education does not prepare students for congregate care. Special education prepares students for work. Therefore, the State’s investment in special education is wasted if the opportunity for employment is lost.

- Increased interaction, self-determination, dignity, respect, learning and socialization occur in employment and not within congregate care settings. People are ‘equal’ members of society when they have a job. This does not happen if we isolate people with disabilities within congregate settings.

- Community Access is individualized and provides the opportunity for the individual to be a member of their community. This service is available now, should be offered based on the individual’s choice, and could be expanded and supported within the existing menu of services.

Supported Employment promotes independence. By working, people with developmental disabilities earn a wage. They become tax payers. This off sets the State’s investment in support services. Jobs are the ultimate equalizer for
all Washington State citizens. We must remain the “employment first” leadership State.

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Thursday, April 7, 2011

People With Disabilities In Danger Of Losing Supports That Help Them Keep Their Jobs.

ACTION NEEDED TODAY!

Now is the time for everyone to contact their Representatives. State Representatives will be voting in Olympia on the House Budget tomorrow, Friday, April 8th, 2011.

People with disabilities who work, pay taxes, and are contributing members of their communities are in danger of losing the supports that help them keep their jobs.

The House biennial budget proposal cuts $54 million from supported employment -- this is a 44% cut!

We need to generate as many contacts as possible today and tomorrow to members of the House of Representatives letting them know how dangerous this cut would be. Calls and emails to your House legislators today and tomorrow CAN and WILL have an impact.

A sample message:

"I am opposed to the House budget proposal to cut Developmental Disabilities employment funding by $54 million. These funds are creating jobs and better lives for people with disabilities! Please restore funding for DD employment programs."

“Please vote yes on any budget amendments that restore this funding.”

Click here to a link to a press release from House Republicans who support restoring funding for DD Employment.

This is a very important issue. You can help make a difference.

Contact your House Members through the Legislative Hotline at 1-800-562-6000. The hotline operator will help you determine who your legislators are if you don't know.

You can connect with your House Members through email by clicking here.

Please share this information with your friends and families. Post it on your Facebook page, Twitter or other social media sites,

It is very important that you ACT TODAY!

Thank you for being a positive advocate for people with disabilities who will be unable to sustain their jobs without needed support.

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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Without Support People With Disabilities Will Lose Jobs

People with significant disabilities often need ongoing support to maintain employment. For some the support reduces significantly as they become more independent in the workplace. Others require a job coach on a more consistent basis. This support is effective and efficient. For every dollar AtWork! spends on supported employment services, 1.69 is returned to taxpayers as a result of savings in government benefits and entitlements and taxes paid by people who have jobs. (The average cost/benefit or ROI for supported employment services in WA state is $1.45, which is the highest in the country.

The problem is that support for many people is in jeopardy. Without support, people with disabilities will lose jobs. Without jobs, they become more dependent and access more human service programs that are already over capacity due to the economy. Some of the people we support are the primary wage earner for their entire family. They live with elderly parents who rely on their adult child with disabilities to earn money and have meaningful opportunities outside of the home. Many families who support their adult child with disabilities to live with them at home are also working. If their adult child does not have a job, many parents would have to quit working in order to stay home and provide necessary care and supervision.

Public transportation is essential for people with disabilities to work. Transportation has become less reliable, more costly, and less efficient. Some people spend hours on buses every day. Job coaches lose hours of service every week waiting for transportation to drop off or pick up the people we serve.

Stigmatism remains an issue for people with disabilities. As we work to find employment for people with significant disabilities, we encounter fear and lack of understanding on a regular basis. While many caring and astute employers have recognized the bottom-line benefits of employing people with disabilities, community attitudes remain a barrier to employment for everyone.

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