Inclusion Drives Innovation

business people making pile of hands , soft focus, vintage tone

Written by member of the Community Trades and Careers Team

Male African American supermarket worker smilingFor most of us, Mondays seem to come too soon. We have to get up, get dressed, leave the house, work hard, make small talk, and then do it all again the next day. These everyday tasks allow people to pay the bills and put food on the table.

However, there is a group of people who look forward to Mondays. Mondays are the day that they get to get up, get dressed, leave the house, work hard, make small talk, and maybe even do it again the next day. They get to make a paycheck in order to pay their own bills and buy their own food. They become a member of their community and begin to make a difference.

Nineteen percent of people in the United States have this superpower to appreciate Mondays – people with disabilities. Unfortunately, twice as many people living with a disability are unemployed as people without one. That is where companies like Community Trades and Careers come in. We are on a mission to make Mondays better for everyone.

Community Trades and Careers is one of the many companies out there that make it possible for people with disabilities to find, secure, and maintain integrated work in their communities. We are a lifeline to the outside world that historically has not been broadly available. While every day for us is geared toward inclusion in the workplace, October was National Disability Employment Awareness month. We thought this would be a good excuse to share a few stories from our experiences in Community Trades and Careers. This is a great reminder that diversity is our strength, barriers can be broken, and inclusion drives innovation.

  • “When I was a brand new Employment Specialist, I was asked to take over a case with a young woman who had not meshed well with her previous Employment Specialist. Due to her extremely high anxiety and history of abuse, she had a hard time connecting with and trusting people. I pride myself in being a safe place for people, but for her I was not just safe, but protective. I made sure she knew that she had someone in her corner, and that I would not let her be taken advantage of. Little by little, I saw her walls lower when she was with me, which allowed me help her with more than just applying to jobs – I helped her to get into therapy for her anxiety, we went to interviews together so that I could supplement answers when words escaped her, I helped her discover her talents and hone her skills, and eventually when she got a job. I went with her to trainings and took notes for her to study at home. When she started to have problems at that job I scheduled a meeting with her employer to discuss what she could be doing differently, and we spent time troubleshooting issues with coworkers. When she decided that that job was not a good fit, we found her another. With patience, understanding, and a little creativity we found her a great position in a store where she felt capable and accepted, which is all she had ever really wanted.”
  • “About five years ago, I had a very upset woman come into my office for her first visit. I asked her if I could get her anything and she told me “Yes, a female counselor. All men are Pigs.” I told her I would see what I could do, but there were none available and would not be for a while. Since the circumstances warranted immediate help, I told her that if she would start out with me, I would find her a female clinician as soon as there was one open. She raised up off her seat, leaned over my desk, and let me know again, “All men are pigs”. I nervously replied “Not all, only about 97% according to recent studies and surveys.” I then took a chance and asked her if she had ever read the book “Charlotte’s Web.” She had. I asked her if she remembered how Wilbur treated Charlotte and how they helped each other? Again, yes. I asked her if she would consider calling me Wilbur, and told her that if she gave me a chance I would be the nicest pig she ever met. I told her I would approach her with the gentleness and understanding of a wise Wilbur. She needed help now and not in three weeks, so just take me for a test drive. For the first time since she stepped into my office she smiled, chuckled, and told me I seemed desperate with the Wilbur analogy, but she was willing to give it a go. Almost 5 years later, we are still working together and her progress has been simply amazing. Yes, she still affectionately calls me Wilbur. We need to stop, look, and listen, and find a way to give a person a chance by meeting them where they are.”
  • “We’re not supposed to have favorites, but sometimes a client will just touch your heart more than you’re expecting. I never thought this young man would be that client. He was loud, self-injurious, and had a habit of taking off his pants when he got frustrated (which was often, since he was nonverbal and could not express to me what he wanted). He worked for one hour a week, but often I had to have his residential staff pick him up early due to his behavior. Even when he was at work, I had a hard time getting him to do the work he was supposed to be doing. Every once in a while, though, he would hold my hand for just a second, and that was enough for me. I called in the cavalry. We got him set up with a Spectrum Education & Behavior Services technical assistance provider, who came to work with us and was able to pinpoint a few of the issues that I had not seen. We were able to tailor his position to better match his skills and interests, we were able to take him out of environments that set off behaviors, and I was able to learn better how to read his body language. Once he started to feel heard and understood, his work and relationships with his coworkers reflected that. He lit up the room when he came in, and he was the highlight of my week. He even started to hold my hand for longer periods and gave me pats on the back when he was happy. I was nervous to pass his case off to another job coach when I changed counties, since we had worked so hard for so long to create trust between us. The thing is, though, that having me in his corner and carving out this job to fit his skills had made a lasting change for him. He is still flourishing with another amazing job coach, and I am sure he still lights up the room when he walks in.”

In order to excel, businesses need to adapt, grow, and innovate. Right now, there is a largely untapped market out there of smiling faces just waiting for Monday. We appreciate our community partners who have taken the leap toward inclusion. Now that is innovation.

Visit the website to learn more about Community Trades and Careers.