MONMOUTH — It no longer matters if you have an intellectual or developmental disability when it comes to finding gainful employment.
Action on a 2008 governor’s executive order, “Employment First,” has started, and so far, Partnerships in Community Living Inc. has helped find jobs for 45 of its clients.
The order was part of a settlement in a class-action lawsuit between people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and Gov. Kate Brown, brought about because of sheltered workshops, where those with disabilities would go to work for subminimum wages.
It took a couple of years to get the programs rolling because the state system wasn’t ready to handle the changes, said Erica Brown, director of employment at PCL.
She called it a civil rights movement.
“It’s the last population of people who were expected to work in a place that they pay subminimum wage,” Brown said. “Some people have worked for as little as $10 a month, and go to work every day.”
It hasn’t been necessarily easy, but Brown said PCL has been successful in finding employment for its clients by finding out where their strengths and weaknesses are, as well as helping employers find out what they need help with.
“There are people we’ve been able to find employment for who, a year ago, their parents and providers would have said, ‘no, it’s dangerous; no one will employ them,’” Brown said. “But if you find the right match, really, employment is possible.”
PCL, which has been an advocate for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, put its new job program, Job Launch, into action in October 2015, said Gwen Whelton, public relations for PCL.
“We reorganized our employment department,” she said. “We work with people who want to work, evaluate their talents, gifts and what might hold them back.”
The old assumption that someone with disabilities would live forever on Social Security in a group home is no longer the case, Brown said.
“A kid in high school (was) not being asked, ‘What are you going to do after high school?’” Brown said. Since the Employment First initiative, school counselors will start asking people with disabilities the same questions as those without.
“The script is changing,” she said.
The trick is finding employers who need the skills of the individuals, Brown said.
“It’s not an act of charity,” Brown said. “The goal is to find something they’d have to pay someone else to do anyway.”
Sometimes, it feels like a typical internship, where the individual may interview someone about his or her business, or job shadow that person, Brown said.
When it works, it works for both the person and the business.
“We have a guy working in a mechanic shop,” Brown said. “He’s always wanted to be a mechanic.”
While his disabilities may prevent him from the hands-on work of fixing cars, plenty needs to be done around the shop. Brown said this individual frees up time for the full-time mechanics to focus on their work.
“He’s worked parts, cleaned parts, recycled parts, organized tools,” Brown said.
Having a real job that pays a real wage is part of the human experience, Brown said.
“It plugs them into the world,” she said. “They have friends; they’re relied upon. They have the same human experience that you and I have. They have work friends. They become part of our society.”
Right now, PCL is focused on finding employment for its clients, but hopes to open the gates to anyone in the community with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
For more information or to learn how to hire individuals with disabilities: Gwen Whelton, 503-838-2403, ext. 342.