Grant from Walmart Foundation Will Allow The Arc to Support People with Disabilities in Building Fulfilling Careers

Washington, DC – The Arc is thrilled to announce it has received an additional $240,000 from the Walmart Foundation to encourage and support workers with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) to enter the workforce. Current research indicates that only 15% of people with I/DD are currently employed. However, with the right supports, many people with I/DD can build a career alongside their peers without disabilities.

“With the Walmart Foundation’s generous support in 2016, The Arc@Work was able to significantly increase the number of individuals with I/DD working in the community. Now, with this additional funding, The Arc and its chapters are excited to further narrow the workforce gap between people with I/DD and their colleagues without disabilities,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc.

The Arc’s employment initiative, The Arc@Work, connects organizations with people and services that increase the diversity, productivity, and quality of their overall workforce. In 2016, the program partnered with 16 chapters of The Arc to connect employers with talented employees with I/DD. With the Walmart Foundation’s support, these chapters were able to reach and even surpass many of their objectives. By June 2017, nearly 400 individuals with I/DD had secured employment, while 15 states and over 1,700 employers were engaged in outreach. The year also produced many success stories, such as this one from The Arc of Monroe County in Rochester, New York.

When Danielle first began receiving employment services, she exhibited low self-confidence and struggled with social interactions ranging from phone calls to interviews. As she began to take part in her first career fair, job interviews, and informal meetings with potential employers, her confidence started to grow. Through practice and dedication to the process, she was able to overcome the stress and anxiety associated with interacting with potential employers.

Eventually Danielle received a call for an interview at a local senior facility that would result in a pivotal change in her life’s course. The day before she was scheduled to interview, Danielle and her employment specialist practiced answering hypothetical interview questions and how to talk about her qualifications. The following day, Danielle performed flawlessly. Danielle engaged the interviewer in a funny story and her demeanor and the content of her answers to the interview questions were on point.

The following week Danielle was offered a job, and she has been working at the senior facility now for 7 months. Danielle is excellent at her job and has an impressive work pace. She is organized and efficient and her coworkers love to be scheduled to work with her because of her amazing work ethic. In late June, Danielle’s astounding professional and personal growth was recognized at an awards ceremony sponsored by The Arc of Monroe County. When asked how the job has changed her life, Danielle simply replied, “It feels rewarding to be working!”

The Arc of Monroe County’s Tammy Reynolds couldn’t agree more: “The Arc@Work is a valued partner promoting workforce diversity for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.”

The Arc advocates for and serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, cerebral palsy and other diagnoses. The Arc has a network of over 650 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with I/DD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes and without regard to diagnosis.

Learning From Our Peers: Advice on Organizational Transformation From Those Who Have Done It

RRTC BriefAs more community-based providers of supports and services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) strive to reinvent themselves to offer inclusive opportunities and keep up with Employment First, WIOA, CMS Final Settings Rule, DOJ’s application of Olmstead to employment, and expectations of the ADA generation, organizational leadership may find themselves wondering how to accomplish such a feat. Where’s the finish line? Where’s the starting block?

The Arc believes that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities belong in the community and have fundamental moral, civil and constitutional rights to be fully included and actively participate in all aspects of society. The Arc is pleased to be working toward finding and sharing information to support its chapters on their journeys toward community employment with leading employment researchers as a sub-grantee of the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (RRTC) on Advancing Employment for Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, a project of ThinkWork! at the Institute for Community Inclusion at University of Massachusetts – Boston on a five-year National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) grant aimed at employment of people with I/DD. As part of this collaboration, staff from The Arc co-conducted interviews with leadership from eight organizations which have transformed their employment service delivery from sheltered work to competitive community employment. A brief sharing advice from those interviews was recently released telling us to Commit. Plan. Engage. Implement.

The next step in this collaboration is an intervention aimed at service providers to aide them in transforming their sheltered workshop models to community-based employment programs. This intervention will provide best practice information and other resources to service providers via a comprehensive toolkit.

We are currently looking for chapters to participate in our intervention pilot this summer. The pilot will be six weeks in duration and will consist of reviewing the toolkit, preliminary planning and implementation of pertinent best practices, and providing feedback to The Arc national staff to ensure that the final version of the toolkit is useful and will best support organizations with implementing the conversion process. If you are interested in learning more or participating in the pilot process, please contact Jonathan Lucus, Director of The Arc@Work at: lucus@thearc.org or at 202.534.3706.

The Arc Promotes Workforce Development for Egyptians with Disabilities through U.S. Department of State Exchange Program


[WASHINGTON, DC] The Arc will host Michael Mikhael, Executive Director and founding member at the Farah Foundation for Development in Alexandria, Egypt as a fellow in the U.S. Department of State’s Professional Fellows Program (PFP). This two-way exchange embraces the power of individual citizens to find creative solutions to challenges they face in both the United States and around the world. During the month-long fellowship program, mid-level foreign leaders and their U.S. counterparts build sustainable partnerships while enhancing their leadership and professional skills.

While in Washington, D.C., Michael will be exposed to innovative strategies of workforce development for people with disabilities. He will also have the opportunity to gain hands-on exposure to the different advocacy efforts that nonprofit organizations utilize in the struggle for disability rights. This parallels the PFP’s objective of broadening the professional expertise of individuals from around the world working to address common challenges, all while building enduring partnerships among American and foreign participants.

Michael comes to the U.S. with a strong background of supporting persons with disabilities. As early as 1993, he saw the need for economic empowerment programs that catered to individuals with disabilities while engaged in a church-led disability program, Faith and Light. Subsequently, in 2010, he established the Farah Foundation that has developed partnerships with the United Nations’ International Labor Organization (ILO) and the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) to implement a labor market access and entrepreneurship program for people with disabilities. The foundation also created a database where individuals may seek disability-friendly employment. Additionally, the agency developed an artisan-craft program through which women and people with disabilities are taught marketable craft skills. In addition to these workforce activities, the Farah Foundation supports an orphanage for children with disabilities in Alexandria, Egypt. Upon returning home, Michael believes this new knowledge will help his organization incorporate more sustainable, comprehensive programs for people with disabilities in Egypt.

“The Professional Fellows Program (PFP) is an extraordinary opportunity, and The Arc is thrilled to participate. During Michael’s month-long fellowship, not only will he gain invaluable advocacy and technical skills he can use when he returns to the Farah Foundation, but The Arc will simultaneously also deepen its cultural competency knowledge and understanding. It’s a win for both of us,” commented Jonathan Lucus, Managing Director, The Arc@Work.

The Arc is one of hundreds of U.S. organizations chosen to host Professional Fellows participants from more than 40 countries and territories this spring. At the conclusion of the program, May 30-June 1, more than 270 fellows will gather in Washington, D.C., for the Professional Fellows Congress, a three-day concluding event aimed at preparing fellows to implement follow-on projects upon their return home.

Since 2010, more than 2,000 participants from more than 77 countries have taken part in the PFP in cities across the U.S., and approximately 1,000 American hosts have participated in reciprocal exchanges overseas.

The Arc advocates for and serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, cerebral palsy and other diagnoses. The Arc has a network of over 650 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with I/DD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes and without regard to diagnosis.

Follow @ProFellows on Twitter and join the conversation using #ProFellows.

For press inquiries please contact:

Kristen McKiernan, Senior Executive Officer, Communications (mckiernan@thearc.org)

U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs: eca-press@state.gov

Building the Bridge to Inclusion through Technology

Many day-to-day technology tasks have become so intuitive for many of us that it’s easy to forget life before these clicks and swipes. For people with I/DD, these skills can make a world of difference by building bridges to community participation.

In 2016, through our partnership with Comcast NBCUniversal, six chapters across the country hosted “Learning Labs” to foster digital literacy skills in their constituents. The classes’ content varied between chapters based on individual needs:

The Arc Baltimore (Maryland)
The Arc Baltimore’s labs provided an overview of Assistive Technology and a demonstration of devices and software to address communication, computer access, eating, environmental control, hearing, home safety, memory and cognition, telephone access, recreation, and vision. Stories were shared on how individuals have utilized devices. A certified Assistive Technology Professional worked one-on-one with participants to identify and experiment with tools that would be a good fit for them.

Easter Seals Arc of Northern IN (Indiana)
Easter Seals/The Arc of Northern Indiana hosted an instructional computer lab focusing on life skills, employment, internet safety, and money management. The session was so successful that one participant found a job he was interested during the class. The next day, he submitted an application online for that job at Game Stop and landed an interview.

The Arc of Prince George’s County (Maryland)
The Arc of PG County hosted labs covering topics related to independent living, including eating healthy, resume building, tech tools for reading, grocery shopping, job seeking/applications, money value, and understanding maps. At the conclusion of the event, local companies even pledged to employ more people with I/DD! One participant, Brianna, found a screen reader helpful—it helped her pronounce words correctly in addition to easier reading. She compared it to audible books and thinks it “unleashes the power of spoken words”.

NewStar Services (Illinois)
NewStar’s labs had a strong focus on iPad skills, including skills for independent living like taking pictures, iMovie, iModeling, maps, planning a trip, and setting and using reminders. Three Learning Lab participants, David, April, and Charles, requested additional labs on the Maps app, and were surprised to learn that there are bus stops extremely close to their houses that will help them gain independent access to the community.

The Arc of San Francisco (California)
The Arc of San Francisco’s labs were centered on using technology for independence and employment. Topics covered included internet safety, Microsoft, LinkedIn, online job searching, and the basics of email. One participant, Kristin, was struggling with how to best use LinkedIn. After working on her picture, resume, endorsements and recommendations in the lab, Kristin landed interviews at both Google and LinkedIn!

The Arc of Lane County (Oregon)
Topics on computer basics, including terminology, parts, safety/care, and typing, were covered. They worked in Microsoft Word, Publisher, Powerpoint, and used email and iPads. Most importantly, they learned about internet safety issues like identity theft protection, safe passwords, and digital footprints. “When asked about his favorite part of the class Jason exclaimed, “I was really excited to make my resume and get closer to my dream job”.

Through this simple exposure to the basics of digital technology, participants are building the skills that will support them to become more independent within their communities. We look forward to expanding Learning Labs to more chapters and building the skills to succeed in people across the country!

A Little Age, A Lot of Perspective

Jill Vaught, Executive Director of The Arc of Indiana Foundation 

It’s not very often that I’m happy to be reminded of how old I am. Today I was. You see, I grew up at a time when people with disabilities were considered disposable. If they hadn’t been sent to live in institutions, they lived in the community – but certainly weren’t included.

Today I received a photo. A student from the Erskine Green Training Institute (EGTI) had gone to one of the food courts at Ball State University for lunch. While there, he ran into friends from high school. He was invited to join their table and later go to a campus event with them.

What does this have to do with my age? I’m glad I’m old enough to remember when scenes like that weren’t possible. It helps me truly appreciate The Arc and how far we’ve come.

I have been lucky enough to work for The Arc in one way or another for 20 years. During that time I’ve seen some amazing things, but nothing has touched my heart quite like EGTI, which opened in Muncie, Indiana in January.

One of the many things that makes The Arc of Indiana such a special organization is that we still take our direction from self-advocates, families and our chapters. In 2012, it became very obvious that the lack of employment opportunities was an issue that had to be addressed.

The reason people with disabilities couldn’t find jobs wasn’t because they didn’t want to work. It wasn’t because our chapters weren’t working hard every day. It wasn’t that families weren’t trying. It always seemed to come back to training or, more specifically, the lack of good postsecondary training options.

In January, 2016, EGTI opened its doors to provide postsecondary vocational training opportunities in hospitality, food service and health care.   EGTI is housed inside a Courtyard by Marriott. Students reside in the hotel for 10 – 13 weeks as they attend classes, receive hands on training and gain experience though an internship. In addition to work skills, the students are improving their self-confidence, self-determination, soft work skills, problem solving skills, relational skills, and communication skills.

I’m happy to report that the program is working. Graduates are securing jobs with a competitive salary and benefits. We are doing exactly what we set out to do. But the thing that I enjoy the most is getting to know the students and watching them grow in skills and independence.

Zach, the young man from the story I mentioned above, told me this week that what he loves the most about being at EGTI is getting to enjoy the college environment and experience what going to college is like.   He has been taking classes at a local community college, but now he has access to a full college campus.

Leslie was one of our first students. About half way through the program she called her mother and told her to pack up her things because she wasn’t coming home. She learned that she was a “city girl” and she was moving to Indianapolis. She picked Indy in part because of her love of horror movies and Indianapolis hosts an annual horror film convention. She had a choice!

Aaron was working two jobs and still didn’t make enough money to be independent. He recently completed a program in Nutritional Services and is how working at Parkview Hospital full time with benefits. Because of his tremendous work ethic, he had hospitals fighting to hire him!

Larry, a dietetics graduate is working in the cafeteria of an elementary school. His mother told me at graduation that the first few weeks of the program she expected a call every day asking her to come and pick him up because nothing had ever worked before. She never got that call.

So far 22 students have completed the program and 17 are currently enrolled. We’ve had three graduation ceremonies and I haven’t been able to get through any of them without crying.

I can’t help but think of all of the friendships I missed out on because society wasn’t as accepting when I was growing up. I wish I could have gotten to know the Heidis and Jimmys and Sarahs that grew up in my hometown.

So yes, I’m glad I’m old. I’m glad I understand just how important the work of The Arc is and where we would be without all of the incredible chapters of The Arc across this county.

If you’d like to get to know the amazing students attending EGTI, please visit our website at www.erskinegreeninstitute.org and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @ErskineGreen

From 1959 to Today, Workers Still Need Paid Leave

By Robin Shaffert, Senior Executive Officer, Individual and Family Support, The Arc 

KM_C554e-20161207133340Among my grandmother’s papers was a letter dated May 28, 1959, from her employer, the New York retailer Franklin Simon, informing her, “Due to the fact that your illness will be prolonged over a period of time, we have been forced to replace you at this time.”

“However,” the letter continues, “[W]e wish to let you know that your record with us has been good, and we will be happy to consider you for an opening when you are able to return to work again.” She received “two weeks vacation salary which is due you,” but no sick leave or notice pay.

I was shocked. My grandmother had been fired because she needed surgery. When I found the letter a few years ago, the Family and Medical Leave Act had been the law for almost 20 years. Large employers like Franklin Simon couldn’t just fire employees when they needed time off for medical care. Or, at least, they couldn’t fire many of their full time employees.

Born in Austria-Hungary in 1900, my grandmother came to this country with her husband and her son as a refugee from the Nazis in 1940. A housewife in Vienna, here she worked first in a factory sewing clothes for dolls and later as a saleswoman at Franklin Simon.

By 1959, my grandmother was living alone in a fourth floor walk-up in the Bronx. Her husband had died, and her only son was married and had a new baby. I don’t know what financial hardship my grandmother endured when she lost her job. As far as I know, she never reentered the workforce.

Being able to take time off from work for my own medical care, after the birth of my children, and to care for my parents and my sister who had congenital heart disease is only one of the many ways that life has been easier for me than it was for my grandmother. But even today many people can still be fired if they need to take time off from work. And, for many unpaid leave is an empty promise because they simply can’t afford to take time off without pay.

At The Arc, our mission is to promote and protect the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and actively support their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes. People with disabilities and their family members are an important part of the American workforce, and like all working people, they need access to paid leave. In my work, leading the Center for Future Planning®, I focus on the needs of the over 800,000 families in which adults with I/DD live with aging caregivers 60 and over. As these parents age and continue to support their sons and daughters to build full and independent lives, the need for flexibility can be critical.

We are joining the call for a robust federal paid family and medical leave law that adheres to a core set of principles. All employees (regardless of the size of the employer, length of service, and number of hours worked) must be able to access paid leave of meaningful length. People need to take leave for different reasons, and all employees should be able to access paid leave for the full range of personal medical and family caregiving needs established in the Family and Medical Leave Act. Families come in many shapes and sizes, so “family” must be inclusively defined. We must design a program that is affordable and cost-effective for workers, employers, and the government. Finally, we must ensure that people who take the leave do not experience adverse employment consequences as a result.

In the disability community, we know how important it is to celebrate one another in good times and to provide support in harder times. An inclusive and robust paid family leave program is an important building block of that support.

The Arc’s Responds To Chicago Tribune Series on Deaths, Abuse and Neglect in Illinois: “A Wakeup Call for Investment, Reform, and Better Wages”

The Chicago Tribune has recently released news articles detailing the systemic problems in Illinois that have led to cases of death, abuse, and neglect of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The Arc of the United States released the following statement on what the news series has uncovered.

“The Chicago Tribune series on deaths, abuse, and neglect of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) is startling and should serve as a wakeup call to the state to invest in the community system, reform its oversight process, and pay workers in this field a wage that reflects the life and death work they take on day in and day out.

“Clearly, the oversight system in Illinois has been broken for a long time, and the public outrage generated by this news series is warranted. What we can hope is that the incidents of abuse and neglect highlighted in this piece will help galvanize positive change not only in Illinois but across the country.

“When we have a system that provides wages that don’t reflect the importance of the work carried out, and training that doesn’t prepare people for the situations they will face, we are putting lives at risk. There are many facets to this problem, and The Arc will continue to work with families, organizations serving people with disabilities, government agencies, and other stakeholders to end horrific mistreatment of people with I/DD.

“Illinois is the state with the highest rates of institutionalization based on population. Without proper support for the programs, services, and staff that are so vital to the health and wellbeing of individuals with I/DD in the community, we can’t fix existing problems. This system, like many across the country, is flawed and we need real investment in the programs that individuals with I/DD rely on to move forward. System change must be made a priority so we can focus on what really matters – quality of life for people with disabilities,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc.

The Arc of Illinois is a leading advocate for reforms in the state. Read Executive Director Tony Paulauski’s letter to the editor and the President of the chapter’s board of directors Terri Devine’s letter to the editor.

Meet the Hometown Host: Baymont and The Arc Reimagine Breakfast Furthering Opportunities for People with Disabilities

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PARSIPPANY, N.J. (December 1, 2016) – Baymont Inn & Suites unites with The Arc – a leading national advocate for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) – to open more doors in hospitality for individuals with I/DD, including autism and Down syndrome, as the hotel brand redefines breakfast with its new Hometown Host role.

Baymont Inn & Suites is redefining traditional hotel breakfast with its new Hometown Host role. Elizabeth, pictured above, is a Hometown Host at the Baymont in Newark, Del.

Baymont Inn & Suites is redefining traditional hotel breakfast with its new Hometown Host role. Elizabeth, pictured above, is a Hometown Host at the Baymont in Newark, Del.

Unveiled just before International Day of Persons with Disabilities on December 3, 2016, Baymont’s new Hometown Host role is a symbol of the brand’s emphasis on neighborly service and dedication to community, ensuring guests are feeling welcome and food is abundant throughout daily breakfast service. Baymont franchisees recruiting for a Hometown Host are encouraged to take advantage of The Arc’s resources in helping connect them with passionate local job candidates within their neighborhoods.

In addition to serving as a service champion and breakfast attendant, Hometown Hosts from Baymont hotels across the country are invited to participate in a voluntary advisory council, supported by The Arc, to help improve the brand’s breakfast offerings. The council will meet regularly to share insights and best practices for perfecting the brand’s free breakfast for guests.

“No matter what’s on the table, we believe breakfast is best served and savored with good company. That’s where our Hometown Hosts come in: they’re the first person greeting our guests in the morning and ensuring they have a great start to the day,” said Greg Giordano, Baymont Inn & Suites brand vice president. “Our collaboration with The Arc not only connects our franchisees to a resource attracting associates who embody our signature culture of neighborly hospitality for guests, but also demonstrates to all communities of diversity they have an advocate in Baymont.”

Building Opportunities One Breakfast at a Time
Unemployment among people living with disabilities is a critical issue. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment rate for individuals with disabilities is higher than 11%, approximately double the nation’s average. Of those employed, only about 40% hold regular jobs in the community rather than within sheltered workshops or other restricted settings. The Arc serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, a population in which unemployment is much higher – 85% of families report that their adult family members with I/DD are not employed.

“Our collaboration with Baymont proactively creates opportunities for both those with disabilities and hoteliers to make positive and transformative contributions within their communities,” said Jonathan Lucus, director, The Arc@Work. “Individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are not only capable of excelling on the job, but have experience, ideas and perspectives to continually enrich businesses. We can’t wait to see how our relationship with Baymont shakes up the makeup of hotel breakfast.”

The Arc@Work is leading the way in developing innovative workforce solutions for the government and private sector by connecting employers with talented employees with intellectual and developmental disabilities and supporting the recruitment, on-boarding, and retention process. The goal is to connect organizations with people and services that increase the diversity, productivity, and quality of their overall workforce.

Hotels including the Baymont Inn & Suites Augusta Riverwatch in Georgia have already experienced positive results employing individuals with disabilities including longer tenure, strong enthusiasm and an increase in guest engagement. Baymont hotels in Florida, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, one of the states with the lowest workforce participation rates for people with disabilities, have already pledged to work with The Arc as part of this initiative.

“We’ve been employing individuals with disabilities for more than 10 years at our hotel, and it’s the best business decision I’ve ever made,” said Kanta Kondur, owner of Baymont Inn & Suites August Riverwatch. “Our associates, like William and Robert, quickly become part of the Baymont family and show an extraordinary dedication to the hotel and our guests. I have no doubt other Baymont owners will find similar success working with The Arc.”

About The Arc
The Arc advocates for and serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), including Down syndrome, Autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, Cerebral Palsy and other diagnoses. The Arc has a network of more than 650 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with I/DD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes and without regard to diagnosis.

About Baymont Inn & Suites
Part of Wyndham Hotel Group, the Baymont Inn & Suites® hotel brand is a chain of more than 400 midscale hotels located throughout the United States and in Mexico that takes pride in neighborly hospitality grounded in the ability to connect with every guest. It’s all about warm, inviting service, topped with freshly baked cookies and a friendly smile. Many locations feature free Wi-Fi, continental breakfast at the Baymont Breakfast Corner®, swimming pools, fitness centers, airport shuttle service and the opportunity to earn and redeem points through Wyndham Rewards®, the brand’s guest loyalty program. Travelers can join the free program at www.wyndhamrewards.com.   Each Baymont Inn & Suites hotel is independently owned and operated under a franchise agreement with Baymont Franchise Systems, Inc. (BFS), or its affiliate. BFS is a subsidiary of Wyndham Hotel Group, LLC and parent company Wyndham Worldwide Corporation (NYSE: WYN). Reservations and information are available by visiting www.baymontinns.com.

Wyndham Hotel Group is the world’s largest hotel company based on number of hotels, encompassing nearly 8,000 hotels and approximately 689,800 rooms in 75 countries. Additional information is available at www.wyndhamworldwide.com. For more information about hotel franchising opportunities visit www.whgdevelopment.com.

CONTACT:
Gabriella Chiera
Wyndham Hotel Group
(973) 753 – 6689
Gabriella.chiera@wyn.com

Kristen McKiernan
The Arc
(202) 534-3712
mckiernan@thearc.org

The Arc@Work Lands Investment in Employment Placement Services from The Walmart Foundation

Washington, DC – The Arc’s employment program, The Arc@Work, is pleased to announce it has received a $245,000, one-year grant from the Walmart Foundation. This funding will be dedicated toward developing innovative programs that place people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) in competitive, integrated employment within their communities.

Current research indicates that 85% of people with I/DD are unemployed. The Arc is working with the public and private sectors to change this reality and offer an opportunity for people with I/DD to obtain meaningful career opportunities alongside people without disabilities on an unprecedented scale. New developments include a government directive to hire 100,000 employees with disabilities as well as updated regulations for federal contractors. As a result, the federal government and more than 45,000 contractors that include many Fortune 500 companies are now seeking employees with disabilities like never before. Unfortunately, this current demand cannot be matched by existing workforce systems that support the I/DD community. And without a strong, unified pipeline in place, this population will not benefit from these new guidelines as much as other disability groups.

“For far too long, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have been relegated to the margins of the working world. Along with private initiatives, new government regulations promise to dramatically increase the number of people with disabilities placed alongside of people without disabilities in integrated, competitive environments. The support from the Walmart Foundation will allow The Arc to build a system that will transform the existing pool of talented candidates with disabilities into productive employees,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

The Arc@Work is well-positioned to tackle this challenge, as it has the expertise and resources to harness the current social, political, and philanthropic energy behind workforce development efforts for people with I/DD. For this particular project, The Arc@Work will utilize existing infrastructure, as well as tap sixteen chapters of The Arc to create an increased number of corporate hiring opportunities. Ultimately this model will connect well-qualified job seekers with I/DD to local, regional, and national employers. The chapters that will be involved include UCP Seguin (IL); The Arc of the Midlands (SC); The Arc of Spokane; The Arc of Anchorage (AK); The Arc of Montgomery County (MD); The Arc of El Paso (TX); The Arc of Monroe County (NY); St. Louis Arc (MO); The Arc of Chester County (PA); Berkshire County Arc (MA); Star, Inc. (CT); The Arc of North Carolina (NC); The Arc Davidson County and Greater Nashville (TN); VersAbility (VA); The Arc of Bristol County (MA); and ADEC (IN), each of which will receive an average sub-grant award of $10,000.

Many of these chapters currently offer high-quality employment services for people with I/DD, such as job development, job coaching, as well as skill-building opportunities like preparation for interviews and resume development. Under their guidance, people with I/DD will receive support to secure competitive employment in their communities. Additionally, over the project period, the chapters of The Arc will strengthen their capacity to place people with I/DD into integrated, community-based employment by developing or deepening partnerships with local, regional, and national employers during the project period. Local, regional, or national employers will be able to improve their ability to successfully employ people with I/DD as a result of their partnership with The Arc.

“This grant is an example of the Walmart Foundation’s commitment to modeling one of our core values – Respect for the Individual, “said Carol May, Program Manager of the Walmart Foundation. “We desire to see communities empower all individuals to reach their full potential.”

The Arc advocates for and serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, cerebral palsy and other diagnoses. The Arc has a network of over 650 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with I/DD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes and without regard to diagnosis.

Max Goldstein: Engineering His Future

In honor of National Disability Employment Month, we interviewed Max, a member of The Arc of the Midlands. A young man with autism, Max’s passion for technology recently led him to pursue and ultimately secure a position at the technology giant Microsoft. Let’s catch up with him to see how his journey to one of the top employers in the world started as well as learn some of his secrets of success.

Max’s path to competitive, integrated employment began at The Arc, and its affiliate, The Arc of the Midlands in South Carolina. Tapping into the parent organization’s The Arc@Work IT training program, Max was quickly connected with two additional organizations: first, Specialisterne USA, the U.S-based affiliate of Specialisterne Foundation. Specialisterne USA mission is to create 100,000 jobs for people with autism in North America, and second, Provail, a Seattle-based agency that assists businesses in hiring and training qualified job seekers with disabilities. Armed with these resources, Max embarked on a hiring process that would lead to the opportunity of a lifetime. He first participated in phone interviews with The Arc of the Midlands, then completed some reading tasks from Specialisterne, and finally, submitted a short project demonstrating his programming abilities. Once this stage was completed, Max flew to Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington where he participated in a two-week evaluation period. During this time, he completed short programming assignments, as well as was informally interviewed by several hiring managers. This gave Max the opportunity to showcase his skills and assess fit with various Microsoft teams.

On the last two days of the evaluation period, Max had formal interviews with two hiring managers where he fielded more technical questions. Normally, this would be followed by an additional swath of analytical problems. But, in one of the interviews, the manager voluntarily waived this additional step, explaining “…it was unnecessary…to do a whiteboard problem….as [he] had assessed [his] skills between the informal interviews and reviewing [his] coding assignment”. This manager further advised “The whiteboard problem is one of the most widely used ways to assess a software engineer’s problem-solving skills, and skipping it (especially at Microsoft’s level) was a complete shock”. Even Max’s fellow candidates were amazed!

Shortly after the conclusion of the evaluation period, Max learned that both hiring managers extended a job offer! After much consideration, he accepted the position in the Core Operating System – Windows Fundamentals Division, primarily because of his interest in operating systems development. Shortly after officially accepting, Max eagerly began the on-boarding process.

Max now spends his days coding and engaging in problem solving sessions on Microsoft products. Often, this involves a number of cross-team meetings and lengthy discussions of new features. It is these moments that excite Max the most because he loves “designing and implementing complex solutions to complex problems”. For him, it’s “like solving a puzzle”.

Max is quick to credit The Arc of the Midlands and The Arc@Work for his success in his job search. Beyond guiding him through the initial interview process, staff connected him with rehabilitation services in his new state, and provided him with various resources and training prior to his interview. When asked to advise other job-seekers with disabilities, he comments: “Persistence is the key. Keep working on and refining your strengths and unique skillsets, as you’ll improve on them a lot quicker than your weaknesses…..You’ll eventually find an organization that recognizes your abilities and will hire you.” The new Microsoft hire further implores those currently in the job market to take advantage of all the support The Arc and its chapters have to offer: “[P]lease use resources like The Arc that help people with disabilities. They are more understanding of your situation than any other group out there, and will help you with your job search and your life in general.”