Monday, August 31, 2009

Unemployed pushing disabled Ohioans out of jobs

From The Oxford Press in Ohio:

When Cheryl Callsen watches her 21-year-old son sit idle, she can see his frustration.
“Andrew’s (pictured) got a lot to offer and, like anyone else does, he gets bored sitting around all the time,” she said of her son who was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, which is on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum. “He wants a job.”

But with so many people out of work, even entry-level jobs such as bagging groceries are hard to find. While nationally the unemployment rate is 9.4 percent, U.S. Census data puts that figure at more than 62 percent for those with disabilities.

“Honestly, the toughest question from my clients these days is, ‘When are you going to find me a job?’ ” said Melissa Engle of Goodwill Easter Seals Miami Valley, who has been working with Andrew to find him a job through the agency’s employment services.

The challenge for agencies like Goodwill and the Butler County Board of Developmental Disabilities is to break through those employment barriers.

Mark Miller, contract services coordinator with DD, said the hope is once there has been a successful placement, more jobs will open up for their clients at that business.

“Once (people with disabilities) find their niche and are trained, they typically stick with those jobs for quite some time,” he said. “It’s win-win for everyone.”

“I mostly look forward to getting a job to see what I can do to help the community,” Andrew said.

Agencies fight a tough market, perceptions about developmentally disabled

More than anything, Andrew Callsen just wants a job. The 21-year-old Madison Twp. resident, just like any other kid fresh out of school, has spent the last several months learning different job skills and figuring out what he really wants to do in life.

The local job scene is grim, with the state reporting Butler County’s unemployment rate at 10.6 percent. But for Callsen, the challenges are even greater, and he faces a jobless rate 10 times that of most people, because of a developmental disability.

Callsen has Asperger’s syndrome and high-functioning autism. While people like him are eligible for a Social Security supplement, he would rather have something more valuable: employment.

“I want to have a job,” Callsen said, “because I want to pay back society for all of the stuff they have given me.”

In the almost 21 years that Mark Miller has worked with the Butler County Board of Developmental Disabilities helping people get jobs, “I have never seen it this bad.”

For the most part, the board and other agencies it works with, such as Goodwill Easter Seals Miami Valley, have successfully placed people with disabilities in entry-level jobs. However, those positions are becoming fewer and farther between as the economy forces many to take any job they can get.

“A lot of those people who were laid off from high-paying jobs at GE and the automakers are taking a lot of those entry-level jobs right now,” Miller said. “We hope things turn around and these over-qualified people will go back to their jobs and open up more positions our clients are after,” he said.

The process for Callsen to find work started when he was in Madison Junior/Senior High School. His last two years there he and his instructional aide, Terri Brandenburg, went through a work study program. Jobs included cleaning the cafeteria, putting up decorations and making copies for teachers. It’s there Callsen learned that after school, he really wanted a job.

Through Goodwill, he has taken a vocational-interest assessment and learned horticulture may be a good fit.

“I can just be by myself and not be the center of attention,” Callsen said of a career choice that would involve working with plants. “I like watching things grow from seeds and change into something.”

After a one-week job assessment with First Pick, a produce stand in Springboro run by Goodwill, Daybreak and Blooms & Berries, Callsen’s mother, Cheryl, said it was wonderful to see the change in her son.

“He is so proud of himself, and when the paycheck came in the mail, oh my God,” she said while smiling proudly at Callsen. “It was a really good experience.”

The challenge ahead is actually finding a job, said Melissa Engle, an employee with Goodwill who is working with Callsen. Even in good times, it takes two to six months to find the right job with the right employer. The recession is affecting that time frame, she said.

“With the economy being so limited, it is more and more difficult for employers to make those accommodations when there are so many people looking for employment,” she said. “You just have to work a lot harder at it.”

Statistics have shown that people with disabilities perform at the same level or better than any other employee.

“They are not the typical person you might see receiving (federal assistance) — they give up that check in order to get earned income,” Miller said. “Many of them would rather become taxpayers than tax users.”