Employment rates for people with disabilities have not significantly improved since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed nearly 20 years ago. Of the estimated 54 million Americans living with a disability, 20 percent are employed or seeking employment, compared to almost 70 percent of Americans without a disability. These low employment outcomes belie the fact that the majority of people with disabilities want to work.
The New York Foundling has a Community Prevocational Program that helps individuals with developmental disabilities find employment by starting with volunteer work that provides hands-on experience and the chance to discover the type of career they want to pursue in the long-run. Many of these individuals lack job experience so programs like ours help these individuals build their resumes.
Desiree and Nancy, two women who live in a residential home managed by The Foundling, recently completed their requisite amount of volunteer hours and are now applying for an employment training program to help them secure a full-time job. Desiree has a passion for helping children and volunteers at a clinic—her co-workers find Desiree to be accommodating, supportive, and always eager and excited to take on new challenges. Nancy volunteers at the same clinic and helps the secretary with filing paperwork and distributing mail.
While the people we serve differ in their strengths, abilities and disabilities, all of them want a job and to earn a salary. At The Foundling, we operate under the conviction that everyone should be integrated members of their communities. Learning daily living skills is the first step, but people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, like the rest of us, also need workplace skills and opportunities to truly become independent.
Take Carl, for example. At 40 years old, he never had a job, but after working closely with a mentor at The Foundling who knew his aptitude and potential, he gained enough experience to work in our main office. Carl sorted checks, answered phones, and filed paperwork. But more impressively, Carl learned how to problem-solve and was able to step in and find solutions when someone needed assistance. As a result of setting expectations tied to his potentials, Carl continues to grow and discover the skills and talents he always possessed.
Individuals with developmental disabilities need proper training and an opportunity. Through my experiences working with The Foundling’s programs, I have seen these individuals master day-to-day tasks and job skills, and have seen how willing they are to do so and watched as they become loyal and productive employees.
We all want jobs where our skills and strengths are recognized and valued. We work to earn money, connect with others, and build a life we desire. Why should people with intellectual and developmental disabilities be any different?