Transition to Adulthood (Part 2): Jobs for People with I/DD

In our last blog post, we celebrated the rise of inclusive college programs. These programs measure their success by whether their graduates find good jobs. But what if young adults with I/DD don’t attend college – or even if they do – what’s next?

Creative Paths to Competitive Employment

Getting that first job is a huge milestone for most young adults. For a large number of people with I/DD, reaching that milestone may never happen. According to the Special Olympics, 28% of working age adults with I/DD have never held a job, and less than half (44%) of adults with I/DD are in the labor force (employed or looking for work). You can learn more about this issue, along with public policy recommendations, at The Arc of the United States.

Meanwhile, many businesses and people with I/DD aren’t waiting for legislative change to make their move. Today on our blog, we share three creative paths people with I/DD take to competitive employment.

David networked and found a job at the local EMS station after completing internships related to emergency medical care and athletic injuries. Photo courtesy of Becky Garland.

David networked and found a job at the local EMS station after completing internships related to emergency medical care and athletic injuries. Photo courtesy of Becky Garland.

 

Path #1: Internships Such as Project SEARCH

Paradoxically, the best place to prepare for the workplace is often the workplace itself. Because of this, many internship programs such as Project SEARCH – which feature “total workplace immersion” – have been very successful in assisting young adults with I/DD to transition to the workforce.

The Project SEARCH model is to provide “An extensive period of skills training and career exploration, innovative adaptations, long-term job coaching, and continuous feedback from teachers, skills trainers, and employers.”

While Project SEARCH has been around since 1996, the program has expanded from a single location at the Cincinnati Children’s Emergency Department to hundreds of sites in the United States as well as many international locations.

Do internship programs work? The results of Project SEARCH certainly speak for themselves: Over 93% of the students that enroll complete the program, and 80% obtain a job. Over 70% gain employment that meets Project SEARCH criteria: competitive employment in an integrated setting (co-workers with and without disabilities), year-round employment (non-seasonal), 16 hours/week or more, and a prevailing wage.

 

Path #2: Businesses Started Specifically to Employ People with I/DD

There’s no greater advocate for hiring people with disabilities than Amy Wright, who founded the coffee shop Bitty & Beau’s Coffee with her husband:

“We have employed 40 people here which makes a big dent in our community…I would encourage other businesses to think outside the box when they are going to hire their next employee because with intellectual and developmental disabilities bring so many skills to the table. That could be really beneficial to their business. And when given the chance, they can just soar.” (Southern Living)

Bitty & Beau’s website introduces members of their staff to the community. Many families are coming together to create job opportunities for their loved ones with I/DD, including the family that started    Bitty & Beau’s   .

Bitty & Beau’s website introduces members of their staff to the community. Many families are coming together to create job opportunities for their loved ones with I/DD, including the family that started Bitty & Beau’s.

 

Amy and her husband have two children with Down syndrome: “While Bitty and Beau aren't looking for jobs right now, " says Amy, "it's on our radar.” Since opening their first location in Wilmington in 2016, the coffee shop has expanded to locations in Charleston and Savannah.

Other cities are taking notice. Bitty & Beau’s is now one of 27 coffee shops around the country that hire people with Down syndrome and I/DD.

Meanwhile, the coffee business is not the only type of business people are founding to employ their family members or friends: We know of gluten-free bakeries, dog biscuit companies, and online suppliers of unusual socks.

What do these workplaces have in common? Each one supports the development of vital job skills that will translate to other workplaces.

 

Path #3: Finding Companies with Creative HR & Hiring Processes

Some companies create positions specifically to assist people with disabilities in the transition to work. Kwik Trip’s Retail Helper program is a great example, notable for their partnership with Vocational Rehab services in Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin. Kwik Trip provides guidance and support to managers and coaching for employees transitioning into the Retail Helper positions. Once employees have mastered the Retail Helper position, they can apply for other jobs within Kwik Trip.

CVS has also taken an unusual approach, opening at least 43 mock CVS stores to serve as training centers. The goal of the mock stores is to prepare people with physical, developmental, or intellectual disabilities for full-time employment in retail or pharmacy tech careers.

CVS’s Baltimore training center.   Read more  about the mock stores and employees’ success.

CVS’s Baltimore training center. Read more about the mock stores and employees’ success.

 

Other companies are recognizing that the traditional interview process can present significant barriers to job seekers. Microsoft’s Autism Hiring Program actively recruits, hires, and supports people with autism. Microsoft describes this hiring process as an “academy of sorts – a combination workshop and interview to help put job candidates at ease (and therefore let them more fully demonstrate their skills)” rather than a “do-or-die phone screen or a several-hour, in-person interview.”

While this program focuses on people with autism, here’s hoping these unconventional hiring practices will continue to spread to other employers and accommodate a more neurodiverse workforce. More companies ought to pay attention if they want to improve their bottom line: Hiring individuals with disabilities has been shown to deliver significant business benefits.


Looking for a job? Check out Monster.com’s list of Disability-Friendly Companies and RespectAbility's list of companies with inclusive hiring practices.

Ready to take your company to the next level? Check out resources for inclusive employers at Disability:IN, or this article on improving inclusion from Harvard Business Review

Next on the blog: Young people with I/DD are thriving in college and in the workplace. But what about moving out? In Part 3, find out how Enabling Technology makes independence possible.

Sneak preview: Stories of independence and transition to community.