Employment possibilities for people with disabilities

People with disabilities, their family members, direct service providers and county human services staff attended “Work is Possible,” a seminar at the Blaine Workforce Center, April 24.

Sean Burke emphasizes a point to those attending the “Work is Possible” seminar April 24 during his presentation about federal laws and court rulings supporting people with disabilities in their efforts to gain employment. Photo submitted
Sean Burke emphasizes a point to those attending the “Work is Possible” seminar April 24 during his presentation about federal laws and court rulings supporting people with disabilities in their efforts to gain employment. Photo submitted

Participants learned about the possibilities for people with disabilities to find jobs in the community and the resources and supports to help make employment in the workforce a reality.

Mike Hill shared his story with workshop attendees about securing his current job as a customer experience representative at U.S. Bank Stadium. Wanting to live independently in the Twin Cities, Hill moved from Isanti to the metro area. As a person who uses a wheelchair full time, he connected with Rise Inc. in Spring Lake Park and Anoka County Human Services staff to receive the supports necessary for him to reach his goal of becoming a receptionist. The county and Rise Inc. staff worked with him intensively, encouraged him to apply for a variety of jobs that matched his skills and employment goals and “always believed in me,” Hill said.

The best part about his job is “making a competitive wage and meeting other people,” Hill said, adding that the position has helped develop his skills at communicating with others and problem-solving.

Other presenters at the seminar talked about current laws, practices and thinking that can help others with disabilities attain competitive employment.

Sean Burke of the Minnesota Disability Law Center showed how federal laws and court rulings from the past two decades have helped open up greater possibilities for employment. He described the U.S. Supreme Court case Olmstead v. L.C. and the court’s ruling in the case that services for people with disabilities must help them live and participate in the most integrated setting possible. He called the ruling “the Brown v. Board of Education for people with disabilities to be included in the community,” referencing the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling desegregating public schools.

Andrea Zuber, Dakota County Social Services director, described practices in that county to increase the number of people with disabilities receiving services to gain competitive employment. Zuber reported that 77 percent of students with intellectual and developmental disabilities graduating from the county’s high schools will receive services to help them find a job in the community, a significant increase from previous years.

Don Lavin, executive director of The Arc Minnesota and a Coon Rapids resident, countered myths and misperceptions about people with disabilities gaining employment. One myth he discussed was that people with disabilities are not qualified for jobs in the workforce.

“If you can build jobs around what people can do, they’re qualified,” Lavin said. He also said that, contrary to fears people with disabilities and their family members might have, “people with disabilities more often than not won’t lose public benefits like Medical Assistance or Social Security if they go to work.”

After these presentations, participants addressed their concerns, questions and specific situations to a panel of representatives from The Arc Greater Twin Cities and from county, state and federal agencies.

Melinda Shamp, lead community resource connector at The Arc Minnesota, ended the evening with an overview of a new statewide initiative called “A Working Life Alliance.” The alliance is a partnership of 16 agencies statewide working to promote and support the employment of people with disabilities across Minnesota.

“Work is Possible” was conducted and supported by the following partner organizations: MN APSE, The Arc Minnesota, The Arc Greater Twin Cities, Autism Society of Minnesota, Dakota County Social Services, Minnesota Employment First Coalition, Rise Inc., Minnesota Disability Law Center, Social Security Administration, Minnesota DEED/Vocational Rehabilitation Services, Minnesota Olmstead Implementation Office and Minnesota Department of Human Services.