At Access Services, we have always believed in unlocking the potential of everyone that we serve. This belief has led us to new and innovative ways to serve. It has led to new partnerships and programs. It has also led people who share this belief to join and grow us with their ideas. Altec Services has been a leader in the field of employment within the Intellectual Disability and Autism community for 30 years. When they became a division of Access Services in July 2020, they brought new opportunities for us to grow in our ability to serve our communities. There has been a push for “Employment First” from the state of Pennsylvania since 2017. This concept is embraced by Access’ staff who believe in helping the people we serve reach their own goals by overcoming any obstacles and barriers they may have through education and opportunities. With this in mind, a new idea was born.
What if we expanded our employment services to those in our programs who never had the opportunity to pursue employment?
Gabriella Egan, Director of Employment Services, recalled when she was growing up, constantly being asked,
“What are you going to be when you grow up? What career will you have?”
Many in the disability community are never asked these same questions.
Instead, assumptions are made about their competencies without being given the opportunity to learn skills that can help them reach their own goals. If we are repeatedly given only one or two options and see the same for our peers, we begin to believe those are our only options. Altec Services has had the opportunity to walk this path with people starting in their Day program and moving through pre-employment training to employment all the way to retirement. Access Services decided to run with this idea. What would it be like to introduce the concept of pursuing employment to the rest of our Day program attendees? What could this mean for them?
This led to the creation of a new position “Employment Transition Coach”. The goal of this position will be to create a curriculum that will introduce those we serve to the concept of employment and start teaching them the soft skills needed to be ready to move into the employment stage. Some of the people we serve have never had to opportunity to pursue employment, for them this will be a first introduction. For some, they work in a “sheltered workshop” style environment where they work a few hours with their peers. This will help them to gain some of the skills needed to pursue community-based employment in businesses throughout our communities. The Employment Transition Coach will be able to do assessments with each individual to help see their strengths and teach the skills still needed to help them reach their employment goals. The coach will also help to build a curriculum for a 6-to-10-week program that will cover things like: social skills, resume building, technology needs, peer mentoring, career day opportunities, and more.
“We are excited about this newly created position and the potential that it brings for the individuals we serve. As we work to build a bridge between employment and day programs, this person [Employment Transition Coach] will play a vital role in evaluating and preparing those we support for the possibility of gainful employment!” Nicole Smith, Director of Life Day Programs & Megan Brodsky, Senior Director of Life Day Programs.
The need for a “Benefits Counselor” has also been identified. There is fear around pursuing employment and the real potential for losing important social security and healthcare benefits that are essential for the people we serve. The Benefits counselor will be able to help the individuals we serve, and their families, navigate the nuances of employment and benefits with confidence. The goal is to remove any barriers that may keep those we serve from being able to pursue employment. One of our current staff members, Jordan Pfister, who is the Life Enrichment coordinator, will be taking on this role and training to best serve those who want to pursue employment. He is excited about the opportunities that this will open up to the people we serve and their families.
When we talked with two of the individuals who are currently part of the employment services program, this is what they had to say about the program and the transition into community-based employment.