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National Disability Employment Awareness Month: Increasing access and opportunity

“Youth and adults with disabilities want to be treated fairly and with respect. These individuals have a strong desire to work and contribute to society, and it is our responsibility to help them achieve their dreams.”
-- Devereux Vice President of Operations – Adult Services Stephen Bruce, M.Ed., BCBA

This year marks the 75th anniversary of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), as well as the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. Each year, the U.S. Department of Labor holds a national campaign for NDEAM. This year’s theme – “Increasing Access and Opportunity” – emphasizes the importance of including and accommodating individuals with disabilities in the workforce.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, just 19.3 percent of individuals with disabilities were employed in 2019. In contrast, the employment-population ratio for those without a disability was 66.3 percent.

At Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health, we believe all individuals deserve the chance to showcase their skills and talents and make meaningful contributions in their communities.

“A job represents much more than a paycheck to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” said Bruce. “Securing competitive employment can help youth and adults achieve greater independence and self-sufficiency, and instill in them a sense of pride, accomplishment and self-worth. While great strides have been made in employing these highly capable, motivated and loyal individuals, more work needs to be done to ensure they have the opportunity to contribute their gifts and thrive in their communities.”

Focusing on strengths and abilities

Devereux offers a variety of employment services for youth and adults living with emotional, behavioral and cognitive differences.

At Devereux Pocono, Program Specialist Michelle Marr helps individuals enrolled in the center’s pre-employment training program develop essential job and social skills.

“Adults can improve their communication and fine motor skills while practicing to complete tasks, such as assembling ornaments or wrapping and labeling candy,” Marr explained. “Each person has their own responsibility. For example, one person may put the ornaments together, while someone else may place them in a bag. We focus on what each individual can do, as opposed to what they can’t do.”

Devereux Pocono also offers supported employment services to help individuals build relationships and integrate into the community. Prior to COVID-19, Heather Dejong, who receives these services, worked part-time at a retreat center.

“I help vacuum, clean and set up for special events. The best part is having fun with my co-workers,” Dejong shared. “I like working because I learn how to help out more at home, and it makes me feel good knowing my parents can rely on me.”

Finding a voice through self-advocacy

In her role as community outreach coordinator at Devereux New York, Kailee McIntyre helps connect adults with potential employers, as well as volunteer and community engagement opportunities (e.g., Special Olympics, baseball games and concerts). McIntyre also facilitates the center’s self-advocacy program, which helps adults feel empowered by their hard work and proud of their accomplishments. Through this program, individuals develop social skills, including communication, problem-solving and decision-making.

“I try to create an environment that fosters open communication. The ability to voice your opinions, wants and needs is important in all aspects of life, including employment,” McIntyre said. “I believe it’s critical that individuals with disabilities have the opportunity to join the workforce. A job can provide financial independence and help boost self-esteem. There is a sense of pride and validation that comes from being trusted to complete a task and giving it your all.”

Learn more about Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health’s employment and transition services.


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