What is your best and worst experience in working with organizations or individuals to get the support you desire? As agency executives, what can we do to ensure we don’t contribute to bad experiences?
It hasn’t been a smooth ride working with disability agencies as a whole. I recently got dropped by an employment provider after my job coach quit with little notice. That sucked in and of itself, but the way it was done was impersonal and shifted the responsibility from the agency to me due to a lack of progress on my part, and the agency wished me success in my future endeavors. My mother tried to get notes from them, but it seemed that the now-departed job developer either didn’t leave enough data or the agency didn’t have access to his notes. All told, it was an extremely frustrating experience, and it was especially hurtful given that I thought the job developer and I were friends.
In the two and a half years I was working, I had five job coaches: five people I had no choice but to accept; five people whom I had to get to know all over again; five times I had to start from scratch with training them to learn to letterboard. There were a few times when they were sick, so my shift was cancelled, and I lost that income. It is very challenging to stay upbeat when you’re the weakest link in the chain, and the system punishes you for it.
The thing is, I had some great support from them, and they were happy in the work, but they kept leaving to take better-paying jobs. They were making barely enough to squeak out rent if they had roommates or a partner with a better-paying job, but on its own, the wage was unlivable. So the best thing that you, as agency executives, can do is to offer a competitive wage, full healthcare benefits, and meaningful vacation time.
It is also important that your staff look like your clients, i.e., that they reflect the diversity of people they support. I would love to see people who are disabled in the role of job developers. Who else has that personal insight into what you are trying to accomplish?
Most of you are professionals who have been working in the disability community for a while, and you are well-connected. Why not band together and advocate to the Oregon legislature to raise support workers’ salaries so that they attract long-term employees? I think if there’s one thing that’s become clear this last year, it’s that people are no longer willing to be manipulated by underpaid positions where the underlying premise is to get as much work out of them for as little pay as possible.
What’s interesting to me is that if we value their work and the impact it can have in lifting disabled people out of unemployment; if we connect that increased salary to improving the job experience for not only the job developer or coach, but for the disabled person who is relying on them at their job; if we assign a higher value to the disability community as a whole, it will only promote the concepts of inclusion and equity for thousands of people. So what’s stopping you from doing right by people like me?