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Programs Aim To Increase Job Prospects For People With Disabilities

Melorie Begay/KLCC News
Mike Dixon wipes down a window seal at the Twin Rivers Training Center in Springfield. Dixon works a maintenance man for the Arc of Lane County.

For employment providers, finding work for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities, known as I/DD, can be challenging.

Advocates say businesses hesitate to employ people with an I/DD because they see them as liabilities and are unsure people with an I/DD would fit in. Both state and local programs are working on changing this mindset.

At the Twin River’s Training Center in Springfield, Mike Dixon’s outside sweeping leaves off the back entrance of the building. It’s one of the items on his checklist as a part-time janitorial maintenance specialist.

Credit Melorie Begay/KLCC News
MIke Dixon dumps trash he's swept up from the parking lot at the Twin Rivers Training Center in Springfield, OR.

“I used to do a lot of cleaning,” Dixon said, “And then I was at a job where I was like you know working around animal feces, garbage, mold to where I just couldn’t do it no more.”

Dixon works for the Arc of Lane County. It’s an organization that provides a variety of services including job support for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

“I basically quit my job, and came to work for the Arc, and started working in a better environment,” he said.

Dixon has an intellectual disability and he spent a year in the Arc’s job development program.

For Dixon, the sanitary workplace isn’t the only plus of his current job, he likes interacting with others and being more involved in the community, he said.

His success is what the Arc aims to do with each person with an I/DD that comes through the door

“We do a discovery process usually before we take somebody to find a job,” said Angela Phinney, the assistant executive director at the Arc.

“That’s really focusing on drilling down on to what are their skillsets and what types of jobs match those skillsets so that when we find a job, it’s something that their interested in and that they’re qualified to do,” she said. This individualized plan, she said, is part of why it can take a while to find jobs for people with an I/DD.

Credit Melorie Begay/KLCC News
Angela Phinney is the Assistant Executive Director for the Arc of Lane County.

Another hiccup is the flood of people with an I/DD looking for jobs, she said. 

“It could be as little as a month, typically more like six months to find a job for somebody.” Phinney said. “It really depends on what jobs are out there and what their passions are.”

Phinney attributes this hold up to a legal case known as the Lane v. Brown lawsuit.

In 2015 the state of Oregon was successfully sued for their treatment of sheltered workshop employees. Workers were paid meager wages for doing mundane tasks in segregated environments.

Now the state Department of Human Services is trying to assist those same workers through the Vocational Rehabilitation program.

“This is really a big change, and I want to recognize that not just for our providers, but for the individuals and their families, Acacia McGuire Anderson, the statewide Employment First Coordinator.

People who’ve come from sheltered workshops usually don’t know what careers they’re capable of doing, she said.

But it’s not just job seekers who are learning about opportunities, its employers too.

“We hear from businesses a lot that they don’t think at their particular business they would have a job for somebody who might have an intellectual or developmental disability,” she said.

The process for employment is slow, but the mindset of businesses is changing, she said. Because the job market in Oregon is doing well, McGuire Anderson said, now is a good time for people with an I/DD to look for work.

Credit Photo taken from ytp.uoregon.edu
Keith Ozols, the interim-director of the state's Vocational Rehabilitation program, says more businesses are hiring people with an I/DD.

Keith Ozols, the interim director for the state’s vocational rehabilitation program points to the growing number of businesses applying for tax incentives for employing people with an I/DD.

“There’s something called the work opportunity tax credit,” Ozols said, “Currently this year we’ve been able to issue 543 of those certificates."

These certificates, he said, have generated $1.3 million for business that hire people with disabilities.

“We’re here to provide employers with services that allow them to recruit and retain, reliable employees that will stay with them,” he said.

The employment rate for people with an I/DD in the state for 2016 was39 percent, according to a report by theUniversity of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability.

That percentage, for the same year from the same report, was slightly higher than the national average of 38 percent. However, advocates say they want to see the employment rate closer to 77 percent, the rate for people without disabilities.

The Lane County Chamber of Commerce told KLCC News that local business are working with organizations to hire more people with intellectual or developmental disabilities. 

CORRECTION: An earlier audio version of this story had the incorrect year for the Lane v. Brown lawsuit.

Melorie Begay is a multimedia journalist for KLCC News. She was the Inaugural KLCC Public Radio Foundation Journalism Fellow. She has a bachelors in Multimedia Journalism from the University of New Mexico. She previously interned at KUNM public radio in Albuquerque, NM and served as a fellow for the online news publication New Mexico In Depth.
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