Why Is PDS So "Progressive"? Warning: Strong Opinions, Language and Sarcasm

By Katy St. Clair, PDS volunteer

By now you've hopefully read a few of our blogs and gotten to know some of the PDS clients... but we thought we would take the time to talk about the bigger picture.

Pacific Diversified Services is a progressive "day program" in Marin County. But, you may be wondering, what is a "day program," and what makes PDS "progressive?"

Maybe you've been out and about and seen loads of people with disabilities in vans going to the movies, or walking around the mall, or possibly just sitting there, doing nothing. Maybe you wondered to yourself, huh, where did they come from? Is this their big day out? Are they on a field trip?

In order to answer this question you first have to know what is like to be born with a disability in the State of California. Sixty years ago you would most likely have been placed in a state hospital; even the most caring of parents were under the impression that this was "probably for the best." Doctors would enter the hospital room, flatly tell the mother that she had given birth to a "mongoloid" ( antiquated term for Down Syndrome) or perhaps tell her baby was a "cripple," and then they would tell her the various things that she could do (put it up for adoption, place it in a hospital) the very last of which would be to actually keep her child and raise it. (Unfortunately there are still stories of things like this happening...)

Though there are still state hospitals, more and more people have chosen to raise their special needs children themselves. Also, more and more programs have evolved that have allowed people with disabilities to lead happy, healthy, and productive lives. Depending on the person, as adults, folks with disabilities can live with a staff roommate, in a group setting, or even alone.

That's where day programs come in. Day programs provide structure and stimulation for people who would otherwise have few options during the day. Depending on the program, clients get out of the house five days a week. At PDS we cringe at the label "day program" and we try to avoid calling PDS a "day program" because of the images of childish/custodial care that are conjured up by that term.

Unfortunately some well-meaning day programs for the developmentally disabled can be considered glorified "babysitting services". It is not uncommon for a bunch of people with disabilities to stay together in one center, all day every day, playing board games and creating art. The trouble with those is that not everyone with a disability enjoys finger painting.

PDS is progressive because we are client-centered. We do the same things that all adults do -- go to the gym, grab coffee, and go out to lunch with friends. We keep our groups small, with a 1 to 3 staff to client ratio or less, so that real life doesn't look like a field trip. Our clients tell us how they want to spend their day and we accommodate them.

Another big way that PDS is different is that most of our clients have jobs. Less than 1% of people with developmental disabilities are employed! This is a shocking statistic. PDS helps our clients find work and then provides the job coaching they need to help them succeed. The money they earn is theirs to use however they want, and the self-esteem they get from being like any other adult is immeasurable. "I have a great job," says our client Sallie, who works at Woodlands Market in Kentfield. "The people are nice, the coworkers are nice, and my bosses are nice. It's like a big family." Sallie says that she feels proud to be working in a good-paying job, stocking the shelves in the health and beauty department. "I have enough money to do stuff with my friends now," she says. "And I can buy presents for my family." Before PDS helped Sallie get a job at Woodlands, she worked 5 days a week as part of another day program doing gardening work and made less than $20 a week!

It's not just the clients who benefit from working, the businesses also do. Integrating worksites with people with disabilities is an asset to everyone. "We notice when Guy's not here," Says Shane DeMarta, who is a supervisor at Marinwood Pool, where Guy Works. "He brightens everyone's day."

One of reasons we have such a high employment rate for our clients is that we do not need to go through the Department of Rehabilitation to get our funding for job coaching, something that can take several months. We simply find a job that's open, set up an interview, and help our client land it. Businesses who hire our clients-- like Whole Foods, Target, Costco, Banana Republic, and many more-- know that we have our clients' backs and that we will do our best to assist them wherever needed, while still allowing them to do their best. Some of our clients are self-starters and do not even need a job coach, so we provide transportation to and from work for them as well as any other support they may need.

Finally, the parents of our clients really appreciate the work we do as well. It gives them peace of mind to know that their adult children are leading full, productive lives and have all the tools necessary to remain secure and happy. Dennis Tucker's son Marc is in our program, and since he has been working at Old Navy, Dennis has seen an amazing change in him. "You wouldn't believe the difference," he says. "He has so much more confidence, it's just gone through the roof. He's more sure of himself and more independent. PDS is a godsend."

Basically PDS just views people with developmental disabilities as people. People who are important, who matter and who belong. If you see our clients out and about in the community, they will be talking, engaging, working, shopping or laughing with their friends. Whether we like the term or not, PDS is considered a "day program". We are a day program that helps people with developmental disabilities enjoy their life with dignity, purpose and self-direction.

Please help PDS win the JobRaising Challenge by donating to our cause.