Systems Change for Inclusive Employment: Is It Worth It?

Apr 13, 2016 1:10 PM ET

Blog post by Erica Kishpaugh, Employment Services Director

Systems change is hard. It’s especially hard when the current system seemingly works. It takes a lot of dedicated people who share a vision to make it happen.

Pennsylvania and the rest of the United States are currently in the midst of moving from a system of day programs and sheltered workshops to a system promoting employment within a person’s community. It’s a movement from segregated settings to inclusive settings.

It’s easy to say sheltered workshops work. People have a place to go. They seem happy. They have “work.” But if we truly want to support people to have meaningful lives, valued roles, and access to all of the opportunities that anyone has access to, then we must ask ourselves: What does employment look like for the typical person?

No one would answer that question with “Employment looks like a day program or sheltered workshop.”

We would answer by saying that typical employment involves identifying your skills and interests, finding a position doing meaningful work, earning a paycheck, and receiving benefits.

Once we know what typical employment looks like, the question becomes: How do we make that happen for people with disabilities?

Keystone Human Services believes that all people can be contributing members of society, and employment is an important part of a person’s involvement in the community. Although some people may need more support than others, employment is a goal for all working-age youth and adults.

There are challenges to inclusive employment:

  • How do you harmonize the expectations of the business world with the regulations of the human services system?
  • How do you ensure parents are on board with inclusive employment for their child?
  • What if the person’s work schedule doesn’t match their family’s schedule or their residential employees’ schedule?

While these are challenges, they are not roadblocks, and we are working hard to support men and women to find and maintain meaningful work that matches their skills and interests. We will talk about these challenges in future blog posts.

Systems change is hard, but when people jump out of bed in the morning, shower, pack their lunch, and get ready to walk out the door 30 minutes before their ride to work arrives, we know systems change is worth it. When people are excited to go to work, to do something meaningful and make a contribution, and to earn a paycheck, we know it’s worth it.

I recently had a doctor’s appointment, and while waiting for the doctor, the medical technician mentioned that they wished the news stations would highlight people’s abilities instead of focusing on everything that’s wrong with the world. On my way back to work after my appointment, I thought, “Isn’t it great to have a job where I get to focus on people’s abilities?” I work alongside others who continuously encourage people to be the best they can be.

Assisting people to find employment is just that—focusing on their abilities, on what they can do, and assisting them to find the place where they can do it well while contributing to a business.

Just because someone has been unsuccessful in one situation does not mean they will be unsuccessful in another. After all, no one will be successful in every situation. For example, a person might thrive as a doctor working in a hospital, but take the same person and ask them to run a bakery, and they may be significantly less successful. It’s our job to provide support to assist a person with a disability to find the right job match which will ultimately lead to them being contributing members of the community.

It takes collaboration to make this happen. And remember, people with disabilities often have a history of being told what they can’t do. If you’ve been told all your life that you can’t work or that you can only work in a certain type of setting, it could be very hard to think of any other direction for your life. It’s especially hard when the people telling you “you can’t” are the people you love and look up to.

As we move forward with systems change, it’s important to keep a positive attitude about overcoming the barriers that hold people with disabilities back from showcasing their talents and skills while getting paid. Let’s focus on people’s abilities and create positive news!

Erica Kishpaugh
Keystone Human Services
+1 (717) 541-8322
Ann Moffitt
Keystone Human Services
+1 (717) 232-7509ext. 133