Individuals with disabilities often have difficulty obtaining competitive employment due to the nature of their disabilities. Others may not be able to work a regular full-time job because it may negatively impact their disability benefits. However, there are programs available that provide opportunities to obtain meaningful work with little to no impact on disability benefits.
Although many states are moving away from prevocational services, they still provide a viable option for employment. Pre-vocational services provide opportunities for individuals with disabilities to work and develop skills in a “pressure free” environment. Pre-vocational services are sometimes referred to as “sheltered workshops”. Pre-vocational programs are most appropriate for individuals who want to earn money but are not quite ready for a full time job or need a high level of support to complete work tasks. Sheltered workshops typically have several staff members on hand to supervise and to provide direct assistance.
Pre-vocational services provide vital services to the community in ways you probably never knew. Companies often provide contract work to pre-vocational providers. These contracts are beneficial to both parties because the employees enjoy the work and the companies are able to get work done at a lower cost. Most employees that work in pre-vocational setting do not get paid an hourly wage. Instead, they are paid what is called a “piece rate”. This means that they are paid according to how many items they produce or package (example, .25 per box folded).
Pre-vocational services have a huge impact on the community that is often overlooked. Many of the products you purchase were produced or packaged by individuals with special needs.
Document Shredding: Companies often contract with companies that hire individuals with special needs to provide document destruction services. These services are critical for businesses as they provide an inexpensive way to destroy secure documentation such as company/medical records while providing meaningful work for the disabled.
Supported employment services allow people with disabilities to work in normal work environments with the “support” from a job coach. Supported employment services are provided in a competitive work environment instead of the sheltered environment of pre-vocational services. Job coaches assist individuals with looking for jobs, preparing for the interview, and provide direct support on the job. Job coaches can also assist the individuals with conflicts on the job such as attendance, conduct, performance, accommodations, etc. Job coaches typically spend a great deal of time with the new employee and then taper off as they gain more experience and become more comfortable with the job.
Supported employment can occur in just about any work setting. Job coaches provide these services in grocery stores, department stores, restaurants, offices, and more. These employees typically earn hourly wages and enjoy benefits such as vacation time and health insurance if they don’t have Medicaid.
Impact of Supported Employment
Supported employment services provide individuals with disabilities the opportunity to work in competitive environments and earn normal wages. I have listed some of the areas that special needs employees are making a difference.
Laundry Services- Supported employment agencies also offer laundry services to local restaurants and hotels. These services are particularly vital during the summer tourist season.
Military- The military also has maintenance contracts with agencies that employ the disabled. These employees are responsible for light janitorial services in various military office buildings.
Community Engagement- Organizations like Goodwill and Versability provide opportunities for competitive employment as well as valuable services to the community.
Individuals with disabilities are some of the hardest working and dedicated employees. Every time I visit a site the employees are so happy and they are so proud to have a job. Sometimes I wish I had the same enthusiasm. The areas I pointed out are just a snapshot of the impact that vocational services have on our community. These programs prove that everyone has the ability to make a difference regardless of physical or developmental limitations.