For Hire

“By the end of the year, though, Jamie had lowered his sights from “marine biologist” to “marine biologist helper.” And by the end of eighth grade, when we met with all his teachers and aides and paraprofessionals to go over the Individualized Education Program that would chart his way through high school (good news: the high school French teacher agreed to have him in French 1 for two years and French 2 for two years!), when he was asked what he might do for a living when he graduated, he said dejectedly, “Groceries, I guess.” I’m not sure what I would have felt that day if I had known that he would have to settle for less than that.”  Full article here

As Starfire has started to dip our toes in some cases, and jump in headfirst in others into what meaningful work works like, this article hits a lot of the barriers when it comes to employment.  A few places in the city that we’ve met with, carved a position, or simply applied has seen the value of hiring a person with a disability, and they are a part of a small change to the story of employment for people with disabilities.

Ruth’s Parkside Cafe recently hired Andrew, a self-taught culinary magician to assist with Saturday morning preparation.  His first shift was a few Saturdays ago, and a few of us shared first day advice: some comical,  “Don’t rave about how great the other restaurant up the street is while you’re there” to practical “Do you have nonslip restaurant shoes?”  “Make sure you introduce yourself to your coworkers when you get there.”

Mike has worked for GBBN for almost two years now, as they continue to invest in him as an employee even when he has days when he’d rather be a college basketball coach, or an actor, or something else entirely than their employee.  It’s quite a change from his nearly eight years at Outback Steakhouse, a job he worked after high school and during some of his time with Starfire, a job that frequently upset him with immature coworkers and their lack of professionalism.  It takes a little help now again from Starfire to check in at GBBN, get him back on track and help him refocus his energies.

Douglas, you’ll recall, applied at Eli’s Barbeque because staff at Starfire recognized him as a foodie given his tasty packed lunches.  He had experience in food service previously and lived a few miles up the hill from Eli’s.  What started as Saturday evening shift bussing tables, has grown into a Tuesday afternoon shift, a budding friendship with a coworker, and the additional role of band hospitality.  “Douglas works on busy nights…Saturday nights which are ridiculously busy.  Customers ask if Douglas is working…”  Douglas has someone check in with him too and helps him navigate any issues that might come up at work.

Josh spent much of his senior year at Starfire with Leah job hunting trying to get back into the restaurant/bakery business.  He now has an internship with Donna’s Gourmet Cookies downtown, and a paid position at Jason’s Deli.  Roles that fit his interest of baking and serving others, as well as his experience of having worked previously in bakeries.

Zak was recently hired on at Dunham Recreation Commission.  Michael is still employed with both 50West and MadTree Breweries.   Each of these people have some time set aside to have someone coach them at work, help them learn new tasks, or work on mastering their job duties.  And it works, for the most part.

It’s evident that there are people and businesses willing and able to see the value of a person with a disability’s contribution, though the barriers to employment are real and often difficult to overcome.

“Whenever we talked about his employment prospects after the age of 21, we reminded Jamie that he did not want to live a life of watching YouTube, wrestling videos and Beatles Anthology DVDs in the basement. He always agreed; the idea of watching YouTube in the basement was preposterous.”

And yet, we know many, many people whose day to day life includes YouTube watching, or DVD watching, or television watching to fill the hours.  I cannot count how many times in someone’s PATH, that someone’s interest, the great positive and possible of what a “good life” might look like, was suggested to be television watching, proof of imagination being stifled when it comes to what a person with a disability could do, could be, might be able to accomplish with a little luck and a lot of hard work.

“But I look sometimes at the things he writes in his ubiquitous legal pads when he is bored or trying to amuse himself — like the page festooned with the names of all 67 Pennsylvania counties, written in alphabetical order — and I think, isn’t there any place in the economy for a bright, gregarious, effervescent, diligent, conscientious and punctual young man with intellectual disabilities, a love of animals and an amazing cataloguing memory and insatiable intellectual curiosity about the world?”

A little luck, and a lot of hard work is a typical experience for anyone job searching.  When it comes to people with disabilities, whose skills may not be as easily explained in a typical resume format, and who can often do some parts of a job description, though not necessarily all parts, this changes the game a bit.  Surely, there are more places in Cincinnati like Eli’s, and Ruth’s, and GBBN and Dunham and MadTree who are willing to work with a person to figure out how they fit, figure out how they can contribute to business, and places that value their contributions over the long term.

Candice Jones Peelman