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Employment First

Andy Ouriel • Dec 29, 2014 at 12:47 PM

At a glance: Employment First

•People with developmental disabilities have experienced unemployment, underemployment and poverty at rates far surpassing residents without disabilities throughout the country and state, including in Erie County.

•Employment First, a statewide initiative, strives to create equality in the workplace, where people with and without developmental disabilities work alongside one another in any field.

•Officials from the Erie County Board of Developmental Disabilities recently reserved $137,000 to implement this initiative at the local level in hopes of helping clients find work.


Chris Collins feverishly zipped around the kitchen, scrubbing off plates smeared in egg yolk, ketchup and syrup.

Collins, a dishwasher who also preps meals at Berardi’s Family Kitchen on West Perkins Avenue, needed to keep a rapid pace to match the revolving-door-like rush on a recent weekday.

But in between weighing spaghetti and coating fish in bread crumbs, the Sandusky resident seemed happy just keeping busy, simply knowing a paycheck is coming his way. “I like working here because they’re all very nice here” said Collins, who has worked at Berardi’s for about eight years. “It makes me feel good”    


Help wanted

Collins is part of an underrepresented demographic.

For several reasons, many county residents with developmental disabilities can’t or don’t work.

Some others, meanwhile, receive employment at places such as Goodwill, Ability Works or other sheltered environments specifically tailored to people with physical or mental challenges.

Only 14 percent of age-appropriate and eligible board clients, including Collins, work in settings integrating both people with and without developmental disabilities, according to a Register analysis of data obtained through a public records request.

About 340 county residents between ages 18 to 65 receive board services.

But just about 50 people, however, work in local settings combining people with and without developmental disabilities in places such as Cedar Point, Kalahari Resort, Sam’s Club, Walgreens and The Thirsty Pony.

The figures both disappoint and motivate board officials to increase work opportunities for those with challenges.

Board officials plan on soon rolling out an aggressive job- and career-strategy policy fixated on finding employment for those with developmental disabilities.

Coined Employment First, the statewide initiative authorized by Gov. John Kasich two years ago calls for:

•Reversing the shockingly high rates of people with developmental disabilities in Erie County, Ohio, and nationwide who find themselves unemployed, underemployed and living in poverty.

•Blending — and not segregating — people with developmental disabilities into all types of work settings.

•Providing those with developmental disabilities with proper training and education to land jobs and careers.

•Encouraging employers in any work environment — be it factories, stores, shops, government offices and seemingly anyplace imaginable where people get paid — to hire people with developmental disabilities.

“The proposed Employment First rule will ensure all individuals with developmental disabilities have opportunities to be engaged in community employment,” according to the program’s executive order.

Local effort

The state policy requires Ohio counties with developmental disabilities offices to pursue this endeavor in a way best suited to their region.

Erie County’s board carved out about $137,000 from its $7.4 million annual budget specifically for Employment Firstrelated activities. County-based property taxes primarily fund the board’s budget.

Board officials targeted the funds for scheduling conferences, organizing workshops, training opportunities, hiring a consultant to draft Erie County’s Employment First plan and funding a communitywide assessment.

The assessment aims to determine some best possible and practical outcomes in hopes more board clients will be able to find work.

All the funds circle back to achieving more equality for a demographic looking to make an honest dollar.

“The concept is people with developmental disabilities can work and should work, regardless of their disability,” said Sharon Travis, the board’s director of individual and family supports.

Travis also supervises the initiative on a local basis.

“It’s such a wonderful thing that truly for the first time this is going to help everybody, and Erie County residents understand that people with developmental disabilities can work” Travis said. “They have skills and things they can contribute back to their community”

Board clients also offer admirable traits any employer would desire, Travis said.

“People with developmental disabilities are typically always on time, there’s very low turnover and they’re dedicated,” Travis said. “Every single person, the long-term dream of theirs is to go to school, continue their education and find employment making at least minimum wage”

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