The Arc and the Walmart Foundation: A Successful Year in Assisting People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Find Jobs in the Community

A year ago, The Arc announced the exciting news that it had been awarded $245,000 by the Walmart Foundation to support workers with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) to enter the workforce. The Arc@Work, The Arc’s employment program, quickly got to work with chapters from around the country to make a dent in the unemployment rate for people with I/DD, one job placement at a time.

Shortly after acquiring the grant, The Arc awarded 16 of its chapters subgrants. Each grantee was then charged with developing innovative programs that place job-seekers with I/DD in competitive, integrated employment within their communities. Chapters included were UCP Seguin (IL); The Arc of the Midlands (SC); The Arc of Spokane (WA); 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). By the end of the grant cycle, The Arc had reached and even surpassed many of the grant’s objectives. As of September 2017, nearly 480 workers with disabilities had secured employment at nearly 360 companies under the program. Additionally, nearly 1,240 individuals with I/DD had undergone training to better prepare them to enter the workforce. Several success stories emerged as the year progressed, including this one about a self-advocate named Danielle from The Arc of Monroe County in Rochester, New York:

When Danielle first began employment services, she exhibited low self-confidence. And throughout the job development process, Danielle struggled with social interactions ranging from phone calls to interviews. As she experienced her first career fair, job interview, and informal meetings with potential employers, her confidence started to grow.

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 interview questions. The following day, Danielle was stellar during the interview process and performed the best she ever had! Her employment specialist knew when they walked out of the building that she would be offered the job. Danielle was able to engage the interviewer in a funny story and her demeanor and the content of her answers were on point. The following week Danielle was offered a job!

Danielle has been working at the senior facility now for 10 months. Her transformation has been incredible. In late June, Danielle’s astounding professional and personal growth was recognized at an awards ceremony sponsored by The Arc of Monroe County.

Based on this year’s achievement, The Arc was awarded an additional round of funding this past spring. With this support, The Arc hopes to build upon the success it began in 2016.

National Disability Employment Month: Push for Progress

By: Nicole Jorwic, Director of Rights Policy, The Arc of the United States.

October marks National Disability Employment Month – it’s a time to reflect on the progress of making employment for people with disabilities a reality, and to push forward on necessary changes to make that a reality for more individuals throughout the country. People with disabilities have shown their desire to work and thrive in their workplaces and communities. Employers all over the country are also recognizing the potential for people with disabilities in their workplaces and the contributions they can make to the culture of their business, and to the economy.

The Arc@Work is supporting employers large and small across the country with targeted outreach and recruitment, employer staffing solutions, and training and consultation. Much of this work is done on the ground via many of our 650 chapters nationwide.

As businesses continue to show their commitment to adding individuals with disabilities to all levels of their workforce, we must also support individuals with disabilities to develop the skills they need to find the jobs that they desire, AND to build careers in the field of their choice. Individuals with disabilities are succeeding in meaningful careers in a wide range of private businesses, government agencies and nonprofit organizations, while others are becoming entrepreneurs with their own micro-businesses.

It is important to remember why a job is so important to an individual with a disability. My brother Chris is 28 and has autism, and I asked him why getting a job is important to him. Here is his response:

“I think that a job is essential to a person with a disability because it gives us purpose, and common ground to build on with the rest of the world. All my siblings get so much of their identities from their jobs, I should have the same chance. All my brothers and sisters in disability deserve the opportunities to work in our communities, for fair pay, so that we can fulfill our destinies.”

As we work on the federal and state level to align policies and practices to make the road to employment smoother for individuals with disabilities, no matter their level of need, we must remember that a job is an essential part of what gives someone standing in their community. The value in having a response to “what do you do?” is immeasurable for individuals with disabilities across the country, including my brother Chris.

The Arc and Baymont Inn & Suites – A Welcoming Partnership for Job Seekers with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities: The Billy Jake Story

Billy Jake CelebrationAt the end of 2016, The Arc@Work launched a nationwide partnership with Baymont Inn & Suites. Through this initiative, The Arc@Work is helping individual hotels fill the brand-new Hometown Host position. The Hometown Host ensures guests feel at home and that there is plenty of delicious food throughout the daily breakfast service. The role is a symbol of the brand’s emphasis on neighborly service and dedication to community. The collaboration is a win-win for both organizations: helping individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) secure a regular job in the community while assisting Baymont hotel owners in finding reliable, passionate employees who can connect with their guests and provide them with a great experience.

In honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, The Arc@Work interviewed Billy Jake, the first individual placed through this new initiative at his local Baymont Inn & Suites hotel in Celebration, Florida. Because of his interest in food, this young man initially applied to a local grocery store. Unfortunately, this endeavor did not turn out as he had hoped. Then one day Billy Jake’s job coach, Tre Johnson, informed him of The Arc@Work’s partnership with Baymont Inn & Suites. Thus, began a year of hard work and patience that ultimately landed Billy Jake the Hometown Host position.

During his first few months with the company, Billy Jake admits he “was uncomfortable being around lots of people at my job.” But each time he engaged, he grew a bit more at ease. Also, thanks to these frequent interactions with guests, Billy Jake’s speaking and social skills have improved immensely. His “kind and patient” colleagues have also contributed to his success. He loves it that they “encourage [him] to do better every day.”

Billy Jake now looks forward to waking up every morning and getting ready for work. His days are quite busy, arranging the daily breakfast buffet, ensuring diners’ desires and needs are met promptly, interacting with the hotel guests and colleagues, and, once the breakfast service is over, preparing for the next morning’s service. Then comes his favorite part: munching on goodies made by his colleague Kathy in the hotel kitchen!

Serving guests at Baymont Inn and Suites has increased his self-esteem and has given his life new meaning. In his words, “I feel like this job came along at the perfect time. It is working out wonderfully for me, and I am so grateful to my job coach [for helping] me find it.” Clearly a determined young man, Billy Jake now encourages other job-seekers with disabilities “to pick something they want to do and give it a try. You never know what is possible for you unless you try. If it does not work out, try something else. Never give up!”

Over the last six months, Baymont Inn & Suites has taken steps to make sure the Baymont franchises and the larger community is aware of their interest in hiring people with I/DD. They, like The Arc@Work, understand the positive contributions individuals with I/DD like Billy Jake make, not just in the workforce, but in society as well.

The Arc Launches TalentScout – Guide for Employers on How to Successfully Employ People with Autism

TalentScoutWashington, DC – One in 68 children today are being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs).  The unemployment rate of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), including ASDs, is 85 percent.  This appalling statistic coupled with the increase in prevalence of kids being diagnosed demands action from all sectors of our economy to ensure that people with ASDs are finding appropriate employment at a fair wage, and retaining that job with the proper supports to be successful and have a career of their choosing, just like people without disabilities.
With nearly 65 years of experience working with and serving people with I/DD, including autism, The Arc is launching an exciting new resource called TalentScout for employers to unlock the talents of people with autism in the workplace.  TalentScout is a first of its kind resource toolkit that gives employers essential insight and tools that harnesses their employees with autism fullest potential and leads to higher levels of productivity in the workplace.

“People with autism have a lot to contribute in all aspects of our society.  In the workplace, their individual unique talents need to be maximized to benefit both the goals of their employer, and their personal desire to have and keep a job that adds meaning to their life.  Far too many people with autism are left on the sidelines of our workforce, and entities that have recognized the benefits of hiring someone with autism are reaping the rewards.  Whether it’s the loyalty that someone with a disability may bring to their employer, or their unique skill set that gets the job done, people with autism are ready for hire,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

TalentScout is a valuable resource for government agencies that are working to implement President Obama’s initiative (EO 13548) to hire 100,000 people with disabilities into the federal government workforce, and for federal government contractors who need to bring their companies in compliance with the new 503 regulations on employment of people with disabilities.  These new regulations require federal contractors to conduct targeted outreach to the disability community, establish a 7% workforce utilization goal; implement data collection mechanisms to measure effectiveness of affirmative action, provide invitation to applicants and existing employees to voluntarily self-identify, and to perform an annual evaluation to measure outcomes.

The Arc is providing a unique resource for employers in that TalentScout’s content has been vetted by people with autism, and it includes their first-hand accounts and insights as job applicants and employees. It is backed by the years of nationwide experience of The Arc’s vast chapter network, and by Autism Now: National Autism Resource and Information Center.

“TalentScout is an extremely valuable guide. This sets the bar high for employers,” Jose Velasco, SAP, Head, Autism at Work Program.

“The personal stories and insights took this document to another level,” Kristie King, Comcast/NBC Universal, Manager, Diversity Recruitment.

TalentScout is one component of TheArc@Work, which is leading the way in developing innovative workforce solutions for the government and private sector by connecting employers with talented employees with I/DD and supporting the recruitment, on-boarding, and retention process.