New Innovative Service Fight Employment Barriers

Rise, Inc., along with funding support from AmeriCorps, has launched an innovative service assisting participants experiencing disabilities overcome employment barriers. […]

Rise, Inc., along with funding support from AmeriCorps, has launched an innovative service assisting participants experiencing disabilities overcome employment barriers. This isn’t a traditional rehabilitation service, but their desired outcome is the same: good paying jobs at no cost to the participant or the employer. The service, referred to as “The I-Team,” draws its name from four typical obstacles: impossibility, invisibility, inaccessibility, and inactivity.

The I-Team points out that, due to the perception that people with significant disabilities face such major challenges, they are unable to efficiently work. Therefore, their employment goals are dismissed as too challenging or “impossible.”

Employers may lack recruiting and retention strategies targeting individuals with disabilities. Employers may be unaware of accommodations assisting this population during hiring, training, and employment processes. Consequently, employers may also fear legal liability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These factors could cause such individuals “invisibility” from employers.

Some individuals may not qualify for adequate services, funding, expertise, or other supportive resources under federal, state, and local vocational rehabilitation systems. For that reason, these individuals’ efforts to search, secure, and retain suitable employment may be difficult, or worse, unsuccessful. Essentially, they suffer “inaccessibility” to adequate supports, causing “inaccessibility” to suitable employment.

Even if individuals are granted access to the supportive resources, they may be placed on long waiting lists, thereby encountering “inactivity.”

The self-directed I-Team was assembled to break down those barriers through flexible, courteous, and respectful services. They hope to assist participants lacking access to, or success with, more traditional funding or job placement programs. Participants typically have a disability or other barrier to employment, are unemployed, desire to work, and want to actively participate with the I-Team to achieve their goals. Each participant is essential member of the team; demonstrating alignment with the “not for us without us” and independent living philosophies. Some of those concepts are as follows:

* Freedom to dream and plan employment with necessary support rather than a preplanned program;

* Support of resources and personnel, both formal and informal, assisting in employment;

* Authority to direct, with a social or support network if necessary, the planning and application of resources; and,

* Responsibility to be a valuable component in the community through competitive employment as well as accountability for using resources in ways that are life-enhancing.

After meeting the team, I was pleasantly surprised for two reasons. First, the service has very few eligibility criteria and operating guidelines, rules, policies, or procedures. Instead, the I-Team staff have the freedom, authority, and management support to do whatever they think is reasonable and necessary to assist participants achieve employment. Second, the I-Team did not intentionally develop their service based on the concepts mentioned above. The service was designed solely around a passionate goal, recognition that everyone is unique, and belief that individuals desiring employment must be actively involved in the employment process. The flexible, common-sense, and active-participant framework that emerged naturally reflected these core independence concepts.
Service participants can expect regular meetings with the I-Team to do the following:

* perform person-centered career planning;

* engage in creative problem-solving;

* consult with disability and employment experts;

* develop customized employment solutions;

* connect with job and community supports;

* obtain job-training and coaching;

* receive mentor support;

* resolve disability benefit issues;

* and, communicate with employers.

The I-Team points out that, as with any successful planning process, patience and determination are essential. It takes time and hard work to get to know each participant, build a plan, and work through the steps. To aid the process, the team is developing networks with other social service experts, employers, and business leaders so they can share ideas regarding hiring and employment practices as well as education concerning disabilities and accommodations.For more information about this program, please feel free to contact I-Team members Nancy Sager, Bethany Campbell, or Jeffrey Nurick via telephone at 612-781-3114.

The I-Team is another Work In Progress (WIP) AmeriCorps Program. The focus of the WIP program is community integration and job placement. Funding for the program ultimately comes through ServeMinnesota, a nonprofit organization that cultivates private partnerships and funding support for Minnesota AmeriCorps and other service programs in education, public safety, human needs, environment and homeland security. WIP is a partnership between five organizations: Rise, Inc., Opportunity Partners, Consumer Survivor Network, AccessAbility, and Lifetrack Resources. Rise, Inc. serves as the legal host of the program.

Rise, Inc. is a private nonprofit corporation dedicated to building a community which is more accepting of all of its citizens. To meet their objectives, they support the development of the creative partnerships with businesses, government agencies, and the general public. Their mission includes helping people with disabilities and other challenges increase their vocational self-sufficiency and productivity in addition to finding safe affordable housing. The organization offers a variety of programs focused on person-centered career planning, vocational training, job placement, supported employment, and housing support services so that people can work in the community, earn competitive wages, live safely and comfortably, and make a productive contribution to our society. The organization has assisted more than 13,000 Minnesotans since 1971. For more information about Rise, visit www.rise.org.

AmeriCorps is a National Service program for adults of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities. It is sometimes referred to as the “domestic Peace Corps.” AmeriCorps members help solve community problems related to education, public safety, the environment, human needs, and homeland security by serving within non-profit and faith-based organizations throughout the country. For more information on the AmeriCorps program, visit www.americorps.org.