~ Brianna prepares for a great future.
Like many first-time job seekers, Brianna Hernandez was unsure of her job skills. She felt she was not good at communicating with others and was extremely shy in a social setting. Brianna’s intellectual disability, (IDD), the most common type of developmental disability, was impacting her future. Because of her disability, she had concerns that she was not good enough, even though she had graduated from high school. In addition to caring for her young children, Briana’s attempts to find work had not been successful. Frustrated and trying to figure out what to do next, she blamed herself, “when I was trying to look for a job, I would fill out applications, and it wasn’t working for me because nobody would call me back. I would never get a call back. So, I just stopped looking.”
At age 21 and a critical juncture in her career development, Brianna, found herself among the majority of adults with disabilities who are out of work, despite their ability, desire and willingness to work and participate in community life. People with any disability, especially a cognitive disability, are employed at much lower rates (34% and 26% respectively) than those without disabilities (73.6%). Brianna’s disability affected her confidence in an extreme way and impacted her success at finding a job. But she still had a long list of capabilities and an interest in working to help support her family.
Job search challenges is one of the leading reasons that people with disabilities become discouraged from looking for work, cited by more than half of non-working adults with disabilities. Lack of available appropriate jobs and access to transportation are also barriers to employment for some. Adults with disabilities who have the most difficulty looking for jobs are those with less education or who lack recent work experience.
For people with a developmental disability, finding jobs can be particularly difficult – especially first jobs.
Landing a first job is a milestone for most people. Beyond the first paycheck, comes essential experience, self-confidence, and pride of contribution. For a person with a documented developmental disability, obtaining a first job, or vital job-experience, is a critical hurdle.
In July of 2017, Briana was referred to Beacon Group’s Phoenix office through Arizona’s Division of Developmental Disabilities and started working with Employment Specialist Alicia King. King encouraged Briana to enter Beacon’s Group Supported Employment (GSE) program. She started by working on a power washing team, cleaning garages, then moved to fleet washing, and finally became a member of a city clean-up crew in Gilbert. Working side by side with other workers with the support of a compassionate job coach, Brianna started to blossom. She took her job seriously, learning how to focus and master new tasks quickly.
“Beacon Job Coaches helped Brianna gain confidence – they taught her transferable employment skills while building her up,” says King. “They are good at helping people practice the skills they need to succeed.”
Like everyone, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) have a better chance of getting and keeping a job if they receive training and are prepared. People become better at something if they do it often.
“Some people have been critical of job training programs because they don’t understand them,” says Chuck Tiller, Vice President of Rehabilitation Services at Beacon Group. “Having this option is a benefit, rather than a detriment, and those that seek to stop this opportunity do not understand the positive impacts that come from job and skills training.” Workers receive training, on the job experience, and workforce development services which can prepare them for competitive integrated employment. They also practice soft skills such as the ability to get along with co-workers, self-advocacy and taking initiative as well as learning technical skills.
“When an individual is ready, he or she can apply to work for a business, and their chances of being successful are much better than before they received these services,” continues Tiller.
This is the path that Brianna took. She had help along the way from King and her job coaches, who, in addition to helping her with employment coaching, helped Brianna navigate getting child care assistance for her young children. Brianna is grateful for that start to her employment journey. “They helped me with the paperwork, and explained everything to me, what to do what not to do.”
Brianna’s Job Coach, Naomi Bennet, was impressed with Brianna’s initiative, and Brianna was asked to join a GSE team in Beacon Group’s custodial division in Phoenix that cleans the Sandra Day O’Connor Federal Courthouse in Phoenix, an AbilityOne contract. It is a demanding position that requires a number of the skills that Brianna had initially felt she didn’t have.
“The building that I work in is huge. There’s a lot of things to cover here,” says Brianna when referring to her cleaning team, their responsibilities and her workplace. “It keeps me busy. There’s a lot of nice people around where I work, and it’s a good environment.”
For some people, it takes a long while before they reach the next career achievement of a promotion or advancement after landing that first job — but not Brianna — just a few months after joining the custodial team, she was promoted. Not only did her job coaches and supervisor recognize her abilities, she also had glowing reviews from judges and staffers at the courthouse. Her supervisor Eddie Ayala suggested she look at a competitive employment position. She is now an independent Beacon staff member, trained in CIMS quality custodial services, and still working at the federal courthouse.
“The most important benefit of having a job is being around positive people,” says Brianna. “I think everyone that I work with here changed my life.”
US District Court Magistrate Judge Michelle Burns compliments Brianna’s work in her busy Chambers. “Brianna does her job with such professionalism and enthusiasm. She always asks us whether there is anything else she can do besides the regular cleaning. She is a calming influence in the chaos of a busy Chambers.” Judge Burns adds “Brianna has become a part of our Chambers and we count on her to keep it clean and tidy.”
Not unlike the benefits gained by individuals without disabilities, employment provides opportunities for socialization and to become more financially independent. Once a self-admittedly shy person, Brianna explains, “I get to meet the judges. It’s pretty nice, and it’s entertaining. While I clean, I talk a little bit and get to know people.” King says Brianna’s story is similar to others with a disability in that they just need a little support and time to find their inner voices, develop confidence, learn some skills.
In a 2018 Post Employment survey by Arizona Complete Health* of individuals who had obtained employment six months prior, members reported increased independence, reduced stress, and the ability to afford housing and improved socialization due to having a job.
What about Brianna? Did the training and practice provide the benefits she was looking for when she sought her first job?
“Having a job makes a big difference in my life because it supports my kids, it keeps shoes on my feet, clothes on my back, the roof over my head. And clothes on my kids, shoes on their feet. And, it helps pay for their daycare and stuff that they need too. So, it’s very important to me. It makes me feel proud because I wasn’t able to do that before.”
For more information about Group Supported Employment and other job services, or about hiring people with disabilities, contact Beacon Group in Phoenix at 602-685-9703 or Tucson 520-622-4874.