As the mother of a disabled daughter, I am a fighter. When my daughter was in school, I was there meeting with teachers, paving the way for my daughter to join in and be part of her peer group. My statement to them was the same each year: ‘One day her classmates will be the ones who will hire her. She needs to learn to work with society as society needs to learn to work with her.’ At the end of the school year her teachers always told me the same thing: “Thank you for helping us understand and grow.”
Now that my daughter is an adult, my focus is on the next phase of her life. Most schools offer special services for individuals with developmental issues (work programs, life skills support, etc.) but after school where does one turn? I was given a list of local support agencies that specialize in working with people with disabilities to help them find employment. Many questions came to mind. What will my daughter do? Where she will work? Will she find peers to help her along the way?
I work for a division of Medtronic, Inc., which is a world leader in medical technology. One of the many benefits working there is that it has a wonderful program for parents with special needs. But what about when the children grow up—where is our support then? What can we do as a company? Are we not those ‘peers’ I spoke of earlier who should hire and train those who need help? As an employee, I asked myself what am I doing to help? So I took a look at my division.
For the past few years we have researched and interviewed Supported Employment agencies. The intent was to hire a set (a Supported Employment Team) to perform routine, but necessary functions around our facility. But the ball always seemed to get dropped because employees moved on and responsibilities changed. In 2002, I decided to pick that ball back up and run with it. We had management support and we had the work. All we needed was a program. A Supported Employment set was initiated in my division on February 24th of 2003. Since then I have seen the growth of not only those individuals who came to work for us, but also in my fellow employees.
While putting this program together, I discovered that many current employees have never worked with or been exposed to a disabled individual that they knew of, and I could understand their concerns. On the other hand I also knew this program could be accomplished. Yes, there were questions and concerns that needed to be addressed. No one was going to lose his/her job because we were hiring new people. The two individuals we hired are here to help us with more routine functions so we now have time to increase our job responsibilities and set new, challenging goals.
The questions and concerns that were voiced at meetings before the program started are now in the past, and the two individuals, who work daily in my division, are “just part of us”. I see the pride they take in their work and the willingness they have to help.
I am proud to say we are now working with an agency who helps provide opportunities for disabled individuals to have productive jobs, which mainstreams them into society and helps us all gain a better understanding of life. Like a friend of mine once said to me: “We are all [just] grains of sand on one big beach.” Side by side, we can work together.
I have seen the growth. I have heard the positive feedback. And I am looking forward to having this program be part of my division for many years to come. It has been so rewarding for me when I hear from fellow employees, “Thank you for helping us understand and grow.” By developing this program at my facility, I hope I am helping individuals, such as my daughter, find rewarding employment.
Now, I’d like to challenge you, the employer. In my division of Medtronic, we have approximately 100 employees and we have hired two clients from a Supported Employment agency to help out with some of the daily duties. That’s 2% of our employee population. What can you do at your facility?
Interviewed agencies’ websites: