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Persons with disabilities find workplace success with local service

As many local companies continue to struggle with developing consistently strong workforces, the Montgomery County Board of Developmental Disabilities Services is working to place individuals with both intellectual and developmental disabilities in jobs where they can make the most impact. At the same time, they are hoping to break down barriers and change perceptions about these individuals.

People with intellectual and developmental disabilities represent a vastly underutilized pool of workers, yet studies consistently show that they are among the most loyal, dependable and motivated employees, with three-quarters of employers rating them as good to very good on most performance factors and 73 percent reporting that hiring them has been a positive experience, according to the MCBDD.

“We start with trying to find strengths and interests of the individuals who come to us for help in finding employment,” said Linda Cudd, the director of Adult Service for the MCBDDS for the past 12 years. “Some have never been exposed to employment opportunities before so we have job developers who get to know the individuals and find out what jobs match their strengths.”

Once an individual is placed in a job, Cudd said a job coach helps work through any issues and barriers and remains with him or her until all parties involved are completely satisfied with the placement. “We place them but they are employees of that business,” Cudd said. “The time period we support is open ended and they may need us for longer or even shorter periods of time.”

MCBDDS job developers work in the community to discover individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities who may qualify for the program and who have a desire to work and to match them with companies. “They are really going door to door and collaborating with organizations and events,” Cudd said. “We also work with students in the local schools providing job coaching and internships.”

MCBDDS serves approximately 3,000 people, county wide, according to Cudd, and she said there is an official state process to determine eligibility for services. “You have to have some significant functional limitation in certain areas such as mobility, self-care, independence and communication,” she said.

Cudd said that people with disabilities now represent one of the largest minority groups in the country. “When the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) came into being 25 years ago, the barriers for access started to dissolve,” she said. “And it really started to help people make choices about their own lives and allow them to support themselves. It’s important to understand that there is a significant number of disabled people statewide who are interested in working and are capable of doing so.”

This “untapped potential,” is what the MCBDDS is working to promote to the local workforce.

With a relatively new program – a partnership with Miami Valley South Hospital called “Project Search,” MCBDDS is working to break the barriers around young people with disabilities entering the workforce and providing them with internship opportunities that are resulting in full time employment.

“Project SEARCH actually started in Cincinnati,” Cudd said. “It’s really a hands on practice program and students get on the job experience and training.”

Developed at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 1996, Project SEARCH was started by a director of that hospital’s emergency department who felt a strong commitment to individuals with developmental disabilities. She believed these individuals could be trained to fill some high-turnover entry level positions in her department. Today this program has grown to more than 300 sites across the nation and the world and is in its second year at Miami Valley South, in partnership with Miami Valley Career Technology Center (MVCTC) and MCBDDS.

Mark Weaver, the perioperative services manager at Miami Valley South, visited Cincinnati Children’s to learn more about the program.

“I was fortunate to join a tour of the hospital with my team to see the program and we thought it was just amazing,” Weaver said. “Once we saw it we knew we wanted it!”

The first group of students from MVCTC completed their internships last spring and the second class of 12 students is completing their first month of training.

“It’s fascinating to watch them mature as the year goes along,” Weaver said. “They may be shy and not willing to converse at first. By the end of the program we saw 12 of these young men and women blossom into their abilities. It was great to see.”

The students at Miami Valley South are trained in cleaning surgical instruments, washing carts, decontamination processes, stocking supplies, surgical preparation, operating room preparation and other tasks. In addition they are also taught basic interviewing skills. The program lasts for nine weeks.

Teresa Rohrer, the MVCTC teacher and coordinator of the program at Miami Valley South said the students are learning how to be independent as they get themselves to work on time through the RTA Project Mobility. “We meet them once a month to discuss how they can get a job on their own one day,” she said.

Like any other program of the MCBDDS, Project SEARCH is an immersion model and it encourages participants to interact with peers to get the full work experience, including eating lunch and taking part in any other employee activities.

“It was so successful that we hired two students from our program last year and they are just rock stars,” Weaver said.

According to Weaver the two young men they hired from the Project SEARCH inaugural class went through the same interview process the same other prospective employee. “We realized while they were here working as interns that they were such a help that we had to have these kids,” Weaver said. “They were making a huge difference.”

Today, they are both patient care technicians and Weaver said they have a work ethic that is “contagious” and they are always looking for more work to do.

“They have single handedly helped boost our morale and improved our surgical room turnover time significantly,” he said. They are among the best employees we have.”

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