By: Mary Godin
Emotional intelligence, social awareness, and adaptability. Three of the most crucial skills needed to be an employment specialist at Excentia Human Services. Our team of three, including our Supported Employment Lead, provides job coaching and training, on-the-job supports, and community-based work assessments for almost 30 employees in Lancaster County.
During a recent conversation with two team members, Brenda and Laurie, we discussed the general process of obtaining employment support services with Excentia Human Services and the behind-the-scenes obstacles they face in accomplishing their roles. This conversation provides a quick glimpse of the state of disability employment.
At the start of receiving services, a job seeker with ID/A needs will meet with the Supported Employment Services team to learn about the types of support available to them and what the team expects of them in the process. This includes a career assessment where the team looks at multiple needs and strengths of the job seeker for an ideal job placement. Then begins the job search.
Employment Specialists provide coaching by assisting job seekers as they apply for positions and going to interviews with them to provide emotional assistance. Then, once an individual receives a job offer, they provide on-the-job support. These supports are subjective and based on each job seeker’s needs and personality. The intention is to acclimate each job seeker with their job requirements. This occurs more frequently at first and then fades out as more natural supports are implemented. Natural supports include building positive and sustainable relationships with co-workers and supervisors.
What seems like a simple process, and very black and white, is not because that’s only half the job. For an Employment Specialist, the priority will always be the job seeker and empowering them to secure stable employment and achieve independence. But a caveat in accomplishing this is realizing not all employers are the same. While some may be great at promoting open communication and treating people with disabilities with respect, others don’t or are blind to their shortcomings.
In their roles, Brenda and Laurie must balance the needs of the job seekers they support with their employers’ differing expectations and capabilities, often supporting both the employee and employer when obstacles arise.
“Sometimes, it is as basic as not knowing how to speak to someone with autism or a disability in a way they understand,” says Laurie. “All it takes is a moment for me to provide context on how to speak or treat the individual based on their specific needs, and then the situation is resolved.”
However, there are moments when Laurie and Brenda realize a work situation is of no benefit to the employee, as the environment will not change. And in those moments, they guide job seekers to get them into a better workplace.
This balancing act is a small illustration of the state of disability employment in the United States and the efforts we are observing this October during NDEAM. With the observation of the Rehabilitation Act 50 years ago, now is a perfect moment for further discussions in our community on the subject and to encourage employers to embody true inclusion in their hiring practices.
That will take time because just as much as it is a balancing act for employment specialists, it’s also a balancing act for employers as they integrate and accommodate employees of all abilities into their workplace.