Monday, August 31, 2015

Chesapeake Regional Hospital Welcomes Project SEARCH Students

Last week, Peter F. Bastone, president and CEO,

welcomed 12 students from Chesapeake during 

a reception held in their honor to kick off 

Project SEARCH. The students, along with their 

parents and administrators from Chesapeake

Public Schools, were present to celebrate the 

partnership that provides students with 

internships in various departments at CRH 

throughout the school year. Students will rotate 

jobs every 10 weeks. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

In Loving Memory of Mary Smith, a Dear Friend and Coworker

I am so sorry to inform all of you – our friends, clients and associates – that Mary Smith (formerly Mary Bertch) passed away Wednesday evening, August 26th.   She had been fatally injured by a motorist involved in a high-speed police chase a day earlier. Some things that happen in life are unexplainable and this is certainly one of those things.

Mary worked as an Administrative Assistant at The Choice Group for 9 years.  She was one of the hardest workers I have ever known, a cancer survivor, a proud parent of two children whom she dearly loved, and a compassionate and supportive presence for staff and clients alike at The Choice Group.    I know Mary had a good life despite many challenges she faced, and was looking forward to a bright future with her fiancĂ©.

We will all miss Mary very much, and hold her family in our thoughts and prayers!

Robin Metcalf, President

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Join Our Team of Dedicated Counselors

Job Opportunity - Job Coach / Vocational Counselor  

( Many Regions in Virginia ) 

Do you have an interest, education or experience in human services?  Put your

skills and passions to work helping individuals with disabilities achieve

employment and independence.  This is not an office job.  Exact hours will

depend on your clients' work hours.  You must have a valid driver’s license,

dependable transportation, ability to plan your day and then shift gears, if

necessary, to accommodate last-minute developments.

Application Process:

Please email resume and cover letter as Word attachments to, indicating "VC" in the subject line. The Choice

Group retains submitted resumes and cover letters for 180 days, so candidates

who have applied within that period need not reapply.

Job Description:

Provide supported employment, life skills training and related services to persons

with disabilities.  At least a Bachelor degree in a related field and related

experience is required.  Signing skills are a plus.  This position requires a self-

starter with computer and time management skills, who can work a flexible

schedule.  Good driving record and documentation of adequate insurance

required.  Compensation based on education, skills, and experience.

Specific job duties include:

* Assess client skills and abilities and requirements of specific employment

situations for the purpose of job/client matching;

* Write Individual Service Plans (ISP), for each client outlining all goals,

objectives and methods of evaluating goal attainment;

* Maintain required documentation on each client;

* Prepare written reports in the appropriate format for the referral source on a

monthly, quarterly, or as-needed basis;

* Communicate with employers at local businesses to develop employment

opportunities for specific clients with severe/most severe disabilities;

* Assist clients with application and interview process and coordinate

arrangements for job placement;

* Train and counsel clients, in competitive employment using systematic

instructional techniques, compensatory strategies, job adaptation/modification

and positive behavioral support techniques;

* Monitor and evaluate client work performance by collecting skill acquisition and

production data and obtaining feedback from client, employer and coworkers,

providing additional training or intervention as needed;

* Provide on-going assessment and follow-along services as needed and


* Provide Independent Living Skills & Life Skills Training, to clients in community

based, individual settings;

* Prepare written materials for clients, employers and counselors;

* Communicate with referral sources and other service providers on an on-going

basis in a holistic approach to providing long-term service to persons with

severe/most severe disabilities, including the need for (and use of) authorized

hours in advance;

* Perform intake assessments;

* Provide job site consultations and back-up support as needed;

* Advocate the employment of persons with severe/most severe disabilities with

family members, service providers and employers through one to one and group


* Participate in the process of achieving and maintaining CARF accreditation;

* Use a computer and telephone effectively;

* Communicate effectively with clients and staff verbally and in written form;

* Manage time effectively and have availability to work various hours of the day

and night;

* Complete paperwork in a timely manner;

* Attend and actively engage in Employer Network meetings;

* Attend and actively engage in Supported Employment Provider Forums;

* Obtain and report relevant ongoing education;

* Participate in appropriate rehabilitation professional associations;

* Assist Director in training new staff;

* Perform other duties as assigned.

Full-time benefits:

401-K/Retirement Plan

Dental Insurance

Flexible Benefits

Flexible Work Schedule

Health Insurance


Life Insurance

Sick Leave


Short-term disability

Education and tuition reimbursement

Mileage reimbursement

Cell phone

EOE/VEVRAA Federal Contractor - All qualified applicants will receive

consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sexual

orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability, or protected veteran status.

Compensation: Compensation is based on qualifications, education, and


Barriers to Employment

There are many ways to remove stigmas and eliminate barriers for the employment of people with disabilities.  Many people with disabilities actually avoid seeking employment in fear of losing their disability financial assistance.  The Choice Group has Benefit Counselors to help those seeking more independence through employment understand exactly what it means for their Medicare or Medicaid. Many of our clients have been able to find work while keeping the assistance they currently receive.  Not only do we make sure our clients get the financial assistance that they need, we provide ongoing support to make sure they continue to be successful in their jobs.  Whether you want part-time work, or want to eventually become a full-time financially independent employee, The Choice Group will help you find the path that’s best for you.

This story is about a woman living in the U.K. with a learning disability, how she finally reached her goal of full-time employment, and what it took to get there.  For the full article click here.

There are too many barriers that stop people with learning disabilities getting a job, a spokeswoman for Mencap has said.

Ciara Lawrence (pictured), who has a learning disability and works for the charity, said the Government should focus on getting rid of barriers rather than removing benefits.
She added: "I'm one of just 7% of people with a learning disability to have a job. I had lots of interviews before I got my job with Mencap. All I wanted to do was to earn my own money and be independent like anyone else.
"There are too many barriers that stop people with a learning disability getting a job, such as staff at job centres not understanding about learning disability and people not realising what people with a learning disability can be capable of. Getting rid of these barriers and not the benefits that people rely on is what we should focus on.
"The Government needs to understand the challenges people with a learning disability face and help break down these barriers, not add to them by making it harder to get the support they rely on from benefits."
She said that getting a job was a "big struggle", and called for more support for people with learning disabilities to find a job.
"I found getting a job to be a big struggle. When I went to my local job centre to try and find work, the staff did not understand about the support someone with a learning disability may need.
"They gave me lots of forms which were hard to fill in and I didn't get good support. My family had to support me a lot to fill in complicated application forms and they took me to interviews."
Yet, the battle wasn't over.
She said: "When I did go to interviews, employers did not want to hire me because of my learning disability. After a long time of frustration, I found out there was a Disability Employment Advisor at the Job Centre. She supported me to find work, but I wish they had told me about this earlier. She then introduced me to my local Mencap and they knew what kind of support I would need to get a job.
"I soon found work with Mencap in an office role which led to full-time employment. I have now worked for Mencap for 14 years and feel privileged to have my own job and earn my own money. Everyone should get the chance to do this."
She added: "Getting a job changed my life. Feeling like you are a member of a team, being respected and earning your own money allows people to be independent and have control over their lives. There needs to be far more support to allow more people with a learning disability to find jobs.
"Ian Duncan Smith is right to say work is good for your health, but only if the right support is there. This is what we need to concentrate on. Application forms need to be more accessible, employers need to concentrate on what people with a learning disability can do rather than can't, and the Government must help employers know what support is needed to help people with a learning disability work.
"Changing how people are assessed as fit-for-work is important. But creating fear that people will have their benefits taken away is going to make life a lot harder for people."

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Nicholas Barker

As an animal lover, Nicholas Barker has found a second home working at Petco.  When Dana, a counselor from The Choice Group, and Nick started working together to find employment, his two interests were animals and gaming. When Dana and Nick first started working together, they applied to Game Stop because he has an immense knowledge of many different games.  But, one of the main responsibilities of an employee there would be having to work the cash register and Nick had an aversion to that particular part of the job.  Having Asperger's, social interaction can sometimes be stressful for Nick.  Their next strategy was Petco.  Dana thought perhaps Nick could find commonality with others through their love of pets.  Because he liked animals so much it seemed like a good fit— and it was!  He began to love the people who shared his passion.  At first, when meeting for an interview, he was very nervous and didn’t necessarily interview the best, but his love of pets was clear and that’s what got him the job— as long as he never had to work the cash register!
He began working 4 hours a week stocking shelves, which helped him learn where everything was.  He then began learning pet care.  He started with the small furry creatures, like guinea pigs and rabbits because the faster moving pets made him nervous.  However, once he got the hang of one task, he always wanted to learn another!  He started working with reptiles and then birds and he was able to add up to 10 hours a week on his schedule because of all the new things he was learning.  Eventually, he asked for more, but the only way to add more hours to his schedule was to learn the one thing he didn’t want to do! That’s right, the cash register.

Nicholas is a fast learner, and a lover of learning in steps, so he and Dana decided together that the first step was to “shadow” fellow coworkers, listening to interactions on pet care advice and more.  Methodically working with Dana on how to “read” customers, Nick finally decided that he was going to try the register one day a week.  For nearly a month, he worked with another coworker doing register duties and he was great!  It turns out that his aptitude for learning in steps was perfect for learning cash register procedure.

Not only does Nick now work 15-20 hours a week, but he’s in charge of the entire front of store operations.  When his manager moved to another location, she invited him to work at her new store in addition to his current location.  Nicholas feels right at home in Petco.  He has become the rock star of the store.  Because he has worked every position possible within the store and has memorized step-by-step procedure, he is THE go-to guy and a great trainer of new employees.

Maintaining his 20 hours a week schedule allows Nick to keep his disability pay.  He may be capable one day of getting off of disability support as he doesn’t rely on medication.  Nick is an avid gamer, again feeding into his love of following step by step procedure.  Now that he has gained confidence at Petco, achieving something he never thought he could accomplish, it is possible for him to use The Choice Group again, and get the training he needs to for a second job at Game Stop, where he no doubt would excel.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Bryan Snow

Bryan standing in front of his workstation

Bryan Snow is 25 years old and has now been at his first job ever for a little less than a year.  October of 2015 will mark his one year anniversary at Virginia Elevator Controls.  The company builds the interior of elevators and ships them to national destinations.  Next time you’re in an elevator, it’s likely their name will be there.  Bryan is in charge of packing the product to ship and watching him work, he makes it seem like a breeze.  But, getting to this point was a process and a team effort including those of his counselor, Dana, at The Choice Group.

Brian with Dana, his counselor from The Choice Group

“No one would talk to him about a job,” said Dana, who’s been with The Choice Group for over a year now.  “We tried to ‘dress him up’” she air quoted when talking about getting him ready for the interview process.  She helped him apply to grocery stores at first, thinking that stocking the shelves and collecting carts could be a good fit.  But no one seemed to be hiring.

Bryan is a person with schizophrenia, he has a gift for math, but social skills are something he continues to work on.  He lives in a group home where they help him with meal preparation and taking his medication.  He has a team of professionals working with him including those at the home, Dana and his father who is very active in his life.  While his disability checks cover his expenses at the home, he got his referral to The Choice Group from services at the Department for Aging and Rehabilitation (DARS) because he expressed his desire for work and greater independence.

Bryan and Dana had applied to almost 25 different jobs when they heard about the opening at Virginia Elevator Controls.  The company had not worked with The Choice Group before but was interested in hiring a more diverse staff, companies who hire with diversity in mind are often times able to receive a tax credit.  They met with the hiring manager and Bryan was hired on a 3-month trial basis. 

Working on an Elevator control, Brian measures and cuts material to prepare for shipping

Dana worked with him for one month on the job.  The company trained him, but no more than they would a person without a disability.  She worked with him on setting up transportation with the CARE van, he had to call every week to set up a ride for work.  She worked with him on sitting at the lunch table and talking or not talking with others.  By the time a month was through, the manager mentioned to Dana that he thought perhaps Bryan was holding back.  When Dana asked him if that was the case, Bryan smiled and said “yes, a little.” 

In the absence of his manager, Bryan has been put in charge of running the Shipping & Receiving department.  He measures and cuts strips of shipping material, uses power tools and is responsible for stocking inventory as of 4 months ago.  Finding a job that plays to his mathematical strengths makes this position a perfect fit.  His productivity increased as soon as he began gaining confidence in his work.  His dad helped him set up his first bank account when he started receiving paychecks and his group home helps him manage his money through an allowance system.

Brian is in charge of all the steps that lead to this finished product, which is ready to ship! 

When recently checking in on him, as she does from time to time just to say ‘Hi,’ she said that he’s gained so much confidence that he says he’s ready for another job.

“Bryan seems to be continuing to blossom,” says Dana, “if he continues on this track I see him becoming a part-time manager.” 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Starting a New School Year for Students with Disabilities

Just in time for school to start, we thought we'd share with educators some advice and requests from parents of children with disabilities.  Numbers 8, 11, 12, 15, 16, 20 to be particularly inspiring!

Article written by Melissa McGlensey from

22 Things Parents Want Special Educators to Know Before School Starts

As back-to-school time draws near, we know parents have a lot on their minds (and to-do lists). Jumping into a new school year with a new special educator can be daunting for moms and dads. So we asked our parent readers what they wanted their children’s special educators to know.
Here’s what they had to say:
1. “Read the IEP and, as my special educator, please tell the inclusions teachers to read it, too. I do appreciate you… But I am still the parent and we need to be a team.” — Doreen Duran

2. “Always communicate with parents. We want to know everything going on — improvements, failures, what they’re doing, are they making friends… We want to know it all.” — Corvette Shannon
3. “Believe what I tell you. I am not trying to do your job, I am trying to help you understand my child. If you start off slowly, you can work your way up. If you give him too much, he will break down and you will lose him for the year.” — Tracy Boyarsky Smith

4. “Our child is complete just the way he is (he’s nonverbal and has Down syndrome and autism). We don’t want him fixed, we just want him to enjoy school and be his best.” — Jill Mayes
5. “The child is a child. They are not their IEP.” — Allie Fread Bernier
6. “We’re partners — a team working on behalf of my child and your student to give him the brightest future possible. Nothing is too small or too insignificant to share since its impossible to know what may effect his day or evening. No secrets, no agendas, just respect and communication both ways.” — Autism and Pizza

7. “Partner with the general educators.” — Melanie Perkins McLaughlin
8. “Just imagine for a moment if this were your child. Now go and advocate for the special services this child needs. Do the right thing.” — Stacy Sekinger
9. “I’m handing my son over to you, teacher. And when he gets on that bus for the first time, I’ll also be handing you a piece of my heart. Please be gentle with us.” — Andrea ‘Dolney’ Mullenmeister

10. “Despite your years of teaching and educating yourselves (which are important), we as the parents know our children. We know that the most important ingredient is compassion and tolerance. So please call on that as much, if not more than your skills in academics.” — Nancy De Bellefeuille
11. “Don’t underestimate my child.” — Jessica Barnhart
12. “To communicate with parents about what we can do to help you so we are all on the same page. Be truthful. Don’t sugar coat, and don’t make it worse than it is. See my son as a person and realize he is a child first. I don’t have a manual and I don’t expect you to, either.” — Ronda Landes

13. “It is okay to have high, reasonable expectations of your students.” — Kristin Boxall
14. “She is my baby girl, and just because I am nervous and tell you things 1000 times doesn’t mean I don’t trust you. I have never left her with anyone before.” — Jessica E. C. Miller

15. “Please tell me something good my child did each day. I already know all the things she struggles with.” — Laura Sloate
16. “Don’t be afraid to challenge them. They need to know they are capable of doing the same work as their peers (with a few accommodations here and there). I don’t want them to just get through the school day, I want them to learn.” — Kelly Smith Rhue

17. “I want to ask them, whenever they have the opportunity, to listen to and read the writings of adults with disabilities similar to those of the students they teach. There are so many awesome blogs where people are sharing their experiences and insights from a mature perspective. Some of them are people who had no way to communicate when they were school age, so they may have valuable insights for nonverbal students who can’t yet speak for themselves.” — Cathy N Jeff Jlss
18. “You will inevitably feel like a failure. Maybe not every day, maybe not most days, but there will come a time when you believe you have failed my child. You haven’t. You are not a failure and nowhere in your job description does it say you need to be perfect. Do your best for her.” — Maria Colon

19. “Breathe. It’s going to be great.” — Kerith Zaccaria Stull
20. “See my child for who he is, not what his disability is.” — Lisa Atkinson Waller

21. “Never give up on my boy. Please?” — Letto Abraxas
22. “Being an educator — and especially choosing the path of teaching special needs children — isn’t easy, and I know you’re sometimes treated like the enemy by parents and administrators. I understand and truly appreciate that. Please let me know how I can support you, and thank you for choosing to make a difference for the kids who most need you.” — Rebecca Edgerton

Read more:

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Angela's Story and Her Call to Action

A recent article on’s blog, written by Angela M. Hooker, was brought to our attention that highlights a lot of the points we’ve tried to make in our own blog posts.  We want to change perspectives of thinking what people with disabilities CAN’T do, to an inclusive attitude of what they CAN achieve.  We strive to end the misconception that job accommodations have to be expensive and inconvenient. Or, even that hiring a person with a disability means they’ll be somehow less productive or qualified for the job when there are abundant examples of the opposite.  She says:

"Are we, through discrimination, fears and preconceptions, depriving our nation of the next Steve Wampler, Stevie Wonder, Stephen Hawking or Stephen Fry — all of whom have disabilities? Imagine our world without the art, skill and knowledge that they bring and contribute to our society. And there are even more dynamic and talented workers out there, and we should have the opportunity and privilege to engage and collaborate with them all in the workplace."

We could not have said it any better than Angela.  Here are 5 calls to action that she outlines in her own story of trying to achieve her goals of employment.

  • Create opportunities for diverse workplaces with atmospheres where people with disabilities don’t have to worry about stigmas. They should feel comfortable at work and know that their colleagues will accept them as they are.

  • Educate ourselves about disability and employment laws. Sometimes employers fear breaking the law and lawsuits, and thus are reluctant to interview people with disabilities.

  • Make our workplaces accessible — in the attitude, technology and physical sense — to people with disabilities. These three elements will support productivity and efficiency for all employees.

  • Train our entire teams on disability etiquette, so they’ll know how to interact with people with varying abilities, and conduct themselves and represent you in work situations.

  • Ensure that tools, including software and systems, are accessible so that employees can access them and complete their work in a timely manner. Workers should be able to work independently without relying on colleagues to assist them in ordinary, independent tasks.

For Angela’s full story, visit

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Finding the Perfect Fit

We strive on a daily basis to find jobs that are a perfect fit for our clients.  We search for jobs requiring skills that play to their strengths.  Many of our client’s talents and abilities are overlooked in the midst of their disability.  Often times people with disabilities don’t get hired because they don’t interview well despite their qualifications for the job which can range from organization and repetitive tasks to calculation to working with animals.  

This article by Josh Teigen is about one particular job niche, a tech start-up, that plays to the strengths of individuals on the autism spectrum.  It reinforces The Choice Group’s beliefs that finding the right job can help individuals reach their full potential and help them lead more fulfilled lives through employment.  

Why Every Tech Startup Could Use Someone With Autism
The startup tech world is booming. A steady stream of technological developments that make our lives, businesses and world better have catapulted developers into an occupation of choice for those looking to ride this wave. Tech entrepreneurs are today's rock stars, and there couldn't be a sexier job than being at the helm of a cutting-edge company.

Behind the curtain of these iconic tech companies and their extroverted leaders is a diligently working, silent force that is crucial to the success or failure of the organization, and that is a specialized group of software testers working with precision in a field of zero recognition. And many of them are on the autism spectrum.

After working in the trenches of emerging technology companies, I noticed the need for high-quality software testers. No one seemed to want this thankless work, and the turnover rate was high. So when a business partner introduced me to a Danish company called Specialisterne -- which assess, trains, hires and places high-functioning individuals on the autism spectrum in detailed roles within companies -- I saw the potential. My business partners and I explored how to start a Specialisterne-type company in the U.S. to address this challenge, and in the process I learned just how much value those on the autism spectrum can provide a company.

A Complex Disorder
When you hear the word "autism," your mind may instantly go to the lowest-functioning person on the spectrum you've met. The fact is, however, that there are many people with autism who hold advanced college degrees in physics, math, music, engineering, chemistry and more. These people are brilliant and diligent workers, yet they often remain unemployed because they don't interview well.

I personally met with a young man in New York City who graduated magna cum laude from Tufts University with degrees in both chemical and biomedical engineering. He then achieved his degree in medicine from Rosalind Franklin University in Chicago. He has a photographic memory, but is currently unemployed. Clearly this isn't because he's incapable of doing the work; rather, the issue lies in the fact that he doesn't interview well. This candidate has immense potential, but he has simply never been granted an opportunity because of his quirky nature.

Autism affects one in 68 people, or around 4.5 million people in the United States alone, and unemployment for people on the spectrum ranges from 80-90 percent. In technology, however, we have unemployment rates at less than three percent. What's more, people on the spectrum cost the system on average about $2 million over their lifetime, and some of those currently costing the system money are capable of working at an extremely high level. By employing them and utilizing their in-demand skill set, we can ease the burden on the system while also providing a needed labor force.

A Specialized Labor Force
There are a few businesses that have identified the unique skill sets of many on the autism spectrum and have harnessed their abilities. While it's no secret in Silicon Valley that developers and testers can have socially quirky tendencies, these companies have adopted and embraced them for their extreme skill and focus. In a conversation with a top software executive (who was at Microsoft at the time) when describing some of those on the autism spectrum and their skills, she laughed and said that I'd just explained 80 percent of the Microsoft development and testing team.

The truth is, software developers do not make good software testers. In fact, when a developer builds something, it's very difficult for them to look at it objectively. Additionally, software testing is extremely detailed and repetitive work. This can become monotonous, which is what makes turnover in this field is so high. Autistic individuals' brains seem to be wired differently: what they lack in social ability they make up for in the ability to focus on very detailed tasks for long periods of time without diminishing quality. What most people find to be boring and monotonous, people with ASD may find soothing, making them an incredibly valuable, yet untapped, workforce.

An Untapped Market
As I mentioned earlier, Specialisterne has identified these savant-level skills and has been able to build a sustainable organization from assessing, training, hiring and placing those with these skills in jobs using a staffing agency model. Taking their cue, my business partners and I were able to build a similar company in the U.S. using their training model and brand, but adapted to function in the more capitalistic U.S. (on which I remain a member of the Board of Directors).
This system has also worked well in places like Fargo, North Dakota, which has quickly emerged as the Silicon Prairie because of its tech success. This is an area that does well by employing technically-minded individuals on the autism spectrum in high-demand dev and tester rolls, even if hiring them initially poses a "company fit" risk.

Flagship organizations from a variety of industries outside of technology have embraced this model as well: banks, public accounting firms, engineering firms, biotechnology organizations, e-commerce and agriculture have all taken this leap of faith in their candidate selection decisions. From each of them, I've heard the same response once they've worked with teammates on the autism spectrum: they don't hire for any charitable reasons, but do so because it's a good business decision.

There are potentially people in your organization already who are high functioning, undiagnosed on the Autism spectrum -- it's not uncommon for technology companies. When looking at how you can hire this sort of person to be part of your competitive advantage, the valuable skills to look for are their ability to do high quality, detail oriented work for long periods of time; their ability to process large amounts of information effectively and accurately; and many of them have photographic memories.

Those on the autism spectrum have the potential to contribute to our currently specialized, technical workforce, and social abilities shouldn't keep them from filling these vital roles.

For the full article on The Blog, click here.