The growing need for employment opportunities for adults with disabilities
First Person

The growing need for employment opportunities for adults with disabilities

Audrey Winkler
Audrey Winkler

Gainful employment should be available to everyone. People with disabilities, especially those with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DD), want to find jobs that aid in their independence. Fortunately, clients participating in JESPY House’s Work Readiness and Employment Engagement (WREE) program have the opportunity to develop work skills, gain experience, and obtain competitive, integrated employment.

For clients here at JESPY House, the process has been ongoing for decades. While we work with some individuals who have had consistent and productive employment, there is still a dire need for increased work hours and days for many of our clients. The same is true for those with I/DD across the state and country.

According to the recent Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Jobs Report, people with disabilities had a 33.7 percent labor force participation rate (out of the 100 percent of working adults) in September, down .04 points (34.1 percent) from a year earlier. The report also explores the gap in employment and the underlying association between disability and poverty. Financial uncertainty is a major concern for adults with disabilities and often affects their ability to pay daily and/or medical bills and other expenses.

Our WREE program and its job coaches have guided and counseled more than 200 JESPY clients toward paid employment, volunteerism, or training sites. One of our goals is to help offset some of their expenses as well as have additional money for spending. JESPY clients work or volunteer in a number of industries, including insurance, cosmetology, manufacturing, retail, food, law offices, and senior care, and work in Essex, Union, Hudson, and Morris counties.

Some of our clients have been working full time for many years at companies such as Prudential, the Maplewood/South Orange school system, and an area day care facility. They have successfully travelled to and from work, been important contributors to their industries, and been recognized for their accomplishments. We are extremely proud of their work ethic, and their example shows what is possible for all JESPY clients.

The WREE department works in conjunction with other JESPY departments, including case management, clinical services, and the Day Habilitation program to keep our clients engaged and motivated to accomplish their goals. Participation in pre-employment training sites at local community businesses enables clients to gain insight into work interests, learn about employer expectations, and gain employable skills.

For some, this is their initiation into the work world. For others, training sites (T-Sites) build their focus on job development and allow them to establish vocational goals. Increasing the number of T-Sites also builds education and awareness in the business community about the value of hiring individuals with disabilities. Employers see first-hand the skills and abilities of the individuals seeking a chance at employment and financial independence.

Many of our day program clients work and/or volunteer at several retail and food locations, senior care centers, and food banks. One client volunteers at a local leather store two days a week for an hour each visit. She is dedicated, punctual, efficient, and a fast producer in terms of her work performance. She’s credited with being a role model for other clients and, like our other clients, has the opportunity to use and demonstrate the many skills learned at our day program. Those skills include communication-building, critical thinking, and customer service. Because of the skills learned and put into practice at T-Sites, clients have or are ready to transition to paid employment.

One of our success stories is of a client who has become employed as a result of working at a T-Site. A dedicated worker, she used her ambition and job readiness skills while training at a local retail store to secure a job. She was recently hired to work two days per week for several hours each day. She and some of the other JESPY clients who are either training for a job or are employed would love the opportunity to move from part-time to full-time status.

Local businesses have the opportunity to collaborate with JESPY by providing T-Sites and job opportunities for our clients and other adults with I/DD. Our search for new training sites and employment opportunities is continual. Some of the sought-after positions for our clients include office/administration, food service, warehouse/stock, and maintenance tasks.

JESPY has been working closely with Greater MetroWest ABLE in taking on the challenge to improve the opportunities for our clients through a new initiative. We are thrilled to be working in collaboration with our Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ partner agencies to improve access and networks in providing direct service in the volunteer and paid employment area for all clients with I/DD.

Everyone can do their part. Become a mentor to a job seeker, provide a resume critique, offer interview tips or a mock interview, or schedule a tour of your company for career exploration. Your skills and expertise are a valuable asset to JESPY’s WREE clients and will enable them to gain the skills they need to accomplish their goal of employment.

Audrey Winkler is executive director of JESPY House in South Orange.

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