Mae works in the cafeteria at Agnes Scott College once a week through a job training program at her high school. Over 80% of adults with intellectual disabilities are not employed. Approximately 63% of people with disabilities who are unemployed want to work. The majority of special education students who age out of high school could be successful at working paid jobs in the community but supported employment is needed to ensure their success. Earning an income would steer these individuals away from a life of dependence and poverty. For every dollar invested in supported employment there is a return of $1.61.
Once Mae ages out of high school in November our focus will be on job training. Mae is very capable of working but she will need perhaps a year of social skills, community navigation and job training before she would be ready to be placed, then who knows how many months of job coaching? However, at some point I believe she will make a good employee and by working, she will begin to return Georgia’s investment in her. She has participated in a number of internship positions through her high school program and the common denominator is that she is a pleasure to work with so I am hopeful she will be able to find a position suitable for her, with time and help.
Bob (Mae’s father)
Recently, a friend of mine told me about a remarkable young man, Rickey, whose story is inspirational. I followed up with her lead and met Rickey and his family. As I listened to Rickey’s grandmother talk about the joys and challenges of raising Rickey and his two brothers, I came to the realization that there was more than one story that demanded to be told. This first story is about Rickey. Rickey is 23-years-old and aged out of Eagle’s Landing High in 2012. In his last year of high school he participated in an innovative job training program at the Success Academy. The Success Academy is part of the Henry County School system and offers students with developmental disabilities, ages 18-22, assistance in transitioning from school to work in their community. The Success Academy opened three years ago and has placed 100% of their students in competitive paying jobs each of the last two years. Rickey has a job at the Golden Corral in McDonough, Georgia. Jon Russell, a psychologist at the Success Academy who was dedicated in placing and supporting Rickey at the Golden Corral, arranged the opportunity for me to observe Rickey working a couple weeks ago; it was a magical experience. The moment Rickey walked into the restaurant he was greeted enthusiastically by his fellow co-workers. The manager approached Rickey with a warm smile and after Rickey slid his apron over his head, the manager tied it behind Rickey’s back. Rickey then proceeded with a ritual he carries out before he clocks in. He zoomed around the restaurant to give his co-workers hugs. Although, the employees were incredibly busy, their faces lit up when they saw Rickey. They immediately stopped what they were doing to say a few works and embraced him in a big bear hug. Rickey then grabbed a snack, an ice-cream cone and plate of fries, before beginning his shift. Once Rickey clocked in I could barely keep up with his pace as he cleaned the buffet tables of stray food, swept the floor and lent a hand wherever it was needed. Rickey worked steadily with an air of confidence and pride and of course a smile on his face. What I witnessed was both remarkable and unremarkable. It was remarkable because 80% of adults with intellectual disabilities are not employed. It was unremarkable because Rickey is a young man who was indistinguishable from all the other employees at Golden Corral. No one would have known that he has had to work extra hard to get where he is and that he has overcome many challenges in his lifetime. He could have been an individual who had languished at home after aging out of high school, but because Rickey is a determined young man and the Success Academy believed that his gifts and strengths would be valued in the workforce, Rickey has a job.
Stay tuned to learn about the tour de force behind Rickey, his grandmother, Donna.
The legislative session in Georgia is coming to a close. Support to fund additional Medicaid waivers was nominal. After learning that the House approved no funds for supported employment I was disheartened. Fortunately, a week later, the Senate voted to appropriate $980,000 for supported employment. If approved by the Conference Committee, these funds will provide support for 125 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (DD) to work in an integrated setting. Supported employment is critical in helping people with developmental disabilities find and keep a job. A job coach works closely with their client in finding a job that is of interest to the individual in addition to a job that utilizes the individual’s strengths and gifts. Furthermore, a job coach trains the employee, works with the employer to provide job adaptations and accommodations, provides on-the-job coaching and ongoing follow-up and support. Over 80% of adults with intellectual disabilities are not employed. An estimated 63% of people with a DD, ages 18-64 who are unemployed want to work. Last summer, I photographed Patrick working at a Gwinnett Braves game. Funding for a job coach made it possible for Patrick to secure this job. In the absence of support Patrick would have been relegated to sitting in the stands instead of doing what he valued most, working and taking home a pay check.
Yesterday was a cold, blustery, winter day that was predicted to produce icy roads and possible flurries. While some school districts closed and many offices delayed the start of the day, business proceeded as usual at the Capitol. I was asked by Dawn Alford, the Acting Public Policy Director at the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities to testify at a legislative committee meeting about the need for increased funding for more Medicaid waivers to support persons living with a developmental disability (DD). I had the opportunity to speak to legislators about my project, Real Stories, Real People, and present several of the photo essays. This is the time to voice your support for funding to support people with DD. Please contact your State Senator and Representative and ask them to support funding for the following:
Unlock the Waiting List Ask – $16,493,000 for 1000 NOW/COMP Waivers for FY 2016
Supported Employment – $ 1.96 Million for 250 students leaving high school to secure gainful employment in an integrated work setting
A link on my website will assist you in identifying your legislators and provide you with contact information at thttp://www.realstoriesrealpeople.org/how-can-i-help/