Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A Choice Group Success Story!

     There can be a variety of obstacles our clients can face when seeking employment.  They are as diverse as our clients themselves.  One of our clients in particular, Ms. Smith, has not only overcome many obstacles but some of the hardest challenges anyone can face, period.  Yet, through it all, she never stopped striving to achieve her goals.  She asked us to share her story, so anyone going through similar hardships can find encouragement.

     Ms. Smith* has always been a hard worker.  Seven years ago, before developing her disability, she held two jobs.  She was a customer service representative at Greyhound and a restaurant manager, both of which required her to stand for long periods of time.  When she developed Lymphodema in her legs, she was no longer capable of standing the required amount of time during her 4 to 8-hour shifts.  Lymphodema causes fluid to build in the limbs and It became clear that she could no longer work her jobs when, during one of her shifts, she passed out and awoke at the hospital where her legs were so swollen her shoes had to be cut off.

     Shortly after losing her jobs, she was forced to move into a homeless shelter for nearly a year, living in and out of her car whenever she could not afford housing.  With the help of a caseworker, Mrs. Smith applied for social security and began receiving disability income after a two-year application process.  This allowed her and her young daughter to move into a subsidized housing apartment.  Things were looking up, but even working part-time in cleaning and housekeeper positions for extra cash, she was unable to support her and her daughter.   Bills piled up and many months she did not have enough to live off of.  She tells of one month when she went two weeks without having any food in the house.  At times things were so bad she even thought of taking her own life.  It was a dark time for Ms. Smith, but instead of giving up, she became determined.  After seven years of instability she was tired of barely getting by and became driven to make a better life for herself.

     One of her close friends had told her to apply to the Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Counseling and even offered to take her to her first appointment with DARS Counselor, Dolores Heisler.  After her meeting at DARS, Ms. Smith started believing that making a better life for herself was possible.  Through a DARS referral to The Choice Group, Ms. Smith began working with one of our Vocational Counselors to find herself a better job.  Without a diploma, GED or recent work experience Ms. Smith was concerned she may not be able to find stable employment with a good income.

During her job search, there was a month where due to an error with social security she did not receive a disability check and she ended up being evicted from her apartment.  At this time, she moved in with a good friend for a few months until she could start working and make enough to get her own apartment.

Fortunately, she received a job offer at the same time to work in a local business's call center.  But one week into her intensive training program for this position Ms. Smith had a health setback and was hospitalized due to asthma-related breathing problems.  Due to the strict attendance policy during this training process, Ms. Smith knew that she would lose her job that she had worked so hard to get.  In the hospital she felt overwhelmed, thinking she would lose everything she was working for, but a nurse told her, “It will be okay, sometimes you have to have a setback for a comeback.”  Ms. Smith said she prayed for a miracle to let her keep her job.

The next day her job coach called to say that she would be allowed to begin work again in her position with the next training class that was hired.  She received job site training supports to learn the technical knowledge and computer skills required for this position.  Her job coach assisted her with transportation until she was able to arrange for transportation through Care Van.

This was in July of 2014.  Since that time Ms. Smith has worked to earn the respect of her peers and coworkers through hard work, consistent attendance and hours of overtime worked to support her company.   After several months of working part time, she has received a raise and a promotion to full-time work based on her merit.  After four months of living with a friend, she was able to buy her own apartment and furnish it with her earnings.  At this time, she decided to enroll in the Ticket to Work program with The Choice Group in order to work her way off of Social Security Income and become financially independent through her own work.

Ms. Smith is a valued employee of her company and is still participating in the Ticket to Work program.  She has received additional awards and certificates for being a “team player,” for taking more than 3,000 calls and for “outstanding workmanship.”  She continues to excel in her work and now newly hired trainees listen to her customer service calls in order to learn best practices for customer service.  She is currently saving to buy a car and living room suite to further improve her quality of life.

Ms. Smith says, “I have had bumps in the road, but, in the end, it all worked out.  Now I am making a better life for myself and helping provide for my daughter and granddaughter.  I want people to hear my story because there are people out there who don’t have any hope.  They may be sitting at home thinking they can’t do anything.  But there are programs out there that can help you. And it you work hard, you can make a life for yourself.”

*For the purpose of telling this story, the subject's name has been changed.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

New Regulations for Employing People with Disabilities

     New regulations are starting to be enforced for Federal Contractors to fill their requirements for employing people with disability.  This article, published by, an HR compliance tool, outlines steps that employers can take to  comply with the new regulations.

How close are you to reaching your goal for employing people with disabilities?

Up until very recently, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has elected to not aggressively enforce new disability regulations under Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act—giving contractors a chance to prepare for the changes in the regulations.

However, at a recent meeting business roundtable, the director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), Patricia Shiu, made it clear that the grace period is ending. According to Shiu, “The waiting period is over. They (federal contractors) are now expected to make an effort.”

So, how close are you to reaching your goal for employing people with disabilities?

According to Carol Glazer, president of the National Organization on Disability (NOD), which works on increasing employment opportunities for people with disabilities, complying with new regulations for Section 503 should be viewed as more of a “journey” than a destination.

Background information

Under the regulations, covered federal contractors and subcontractors must invite job applicants (at the preoffer stage) and employees to self-identify as individuals with a disability (IWDs). Contractors and subcontractors also must track the total number of applicants and how many of them are known IWDs, the total number of job openings and the number of jobs filled, and the total number of applicants hired and how many applicants with disabilities were hired, according to the OFCCP.

The new regulations, which went into effect in March 2014, also introduce a 7% goal for employing IWDs. The goal is aimed at giving contractors a benchmark against which they can measure the success of their efforts in outreach to—and recruitment of—IWDs and the change in the representation of IWDs in their workforce. For contractors with more than 100 employees, the goal applies to each job group. For contractors with 100 or fewer employees, the goal applies to their entire workforce.

“You cannot be sanctioned for not meeting the goal, but you can be for not trying” to reach it, says Glazer. “That’s what the OFCCP will be looking for.”

Although many contractors have taken steps to hire more people with disabilities in light of the rule changes, there is additional work to be done, she says. “Most employers that we see in our universe are not at that 7%.”

What to do

In addition to complying with the new requirements, Glazer offers advice to help contractors reach the utilization goal:

Recognize the benefits of hiring people with disabilities. There are 33 million people with disabilities that are of working age in the United States, Glazer says, but only 21% of them are currently employed. Of the remaining 26 million, “three quarters of them want to work and can work.” There are many “incentives beyond the incentive of compliance” to hire from this “untapped talent pool,” she says. “More and more companies are beginning to realize this is a group that can contribute something to the workforce—not in spite of their disability but because of it.”

For example, Microsoft® and SAP® actively recruit people with autism for software testing and spotting anomalies in code, Glazer says.

Build relationships. Before the new regulations went into effect, contractors already had an obligation to proactively engage in outreach efforts to hire people with disabilities, but “most companies still have not done that,” says Miranda Pax, NOD’s director of external affairs.

Glazer recommends building relationships with organizations that provide services to people with disabilities. Disability organizations understand the needs and talents of IWDs and accommodations to help them succeed in the workplace, she says.

Develop a disability-friendly brand. Do you have senior officials who are willing to disclose their own disability? Are your job postings in an accessible format for people with a vision impairment? Have you considered alternatives to behavioral interviews, which tend not to be ideal for people with autism? Are there pictures of people with disabilities on your website? Being able to answer “yes” to those questions—and other questions like them—will help make your organization more attractive to people with disabilities, Glazer says. “People are watching. Be very intentional in the steps you take.”

Perform a self-assessment. NOD’s Disability Employment Tracker is a free, confidential, Web-based tool that helps contractors assess their approach to attracting, hiring, and retaining individuals with disabilities. “The Tracker is an ideal way to demonstrate that you are taking strides to include people with disabilities in your workforce,” Glazer says. “More than that, it will help you identify strengths and weaknesses in your disability initiatives.”

Tap other available resources. Glazer says a wealth of information is available to contractors through NOD’s CEO Council and other resources, such as the DOL’s Office of Disability Employment and Job Accommodation Network, Easter Seals, Goodwill Industries, National Industry Liaison Group, and DirectEmployers Association.

For more helpful links and resources, view the original article here.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Emergency Preparedness for People with Disabilities

    With this weekend's weather report comes to mind the needs of people with disabilities in the event of inclement weather.  It usually requires a little extra planning for people who require medication or those with special equipment to consider in the event of a power outage.  This advice comes straight from the American Red Cross.

Considerations for people with disabilities

    Those with disabilities or other special needs often have unique needs that require more detailed planning in the event of a disaster. Consider the following actions as you prepare:

• Learn what to do in case of power outages and personal injuries. Know how to connect and start a back-up power supply for essential medical equipment.

• Consider getting a medical alert system that will allow you to call for help if you are immobilized in an emergency.  Most alert systems require a working phone line, so have a back-up plan, such as a cell phone or pager, if the regular landlines are disrupted.

• If you use an electric wheelchair or scooter, have a manual wheelchair for backup.

• Teach those who may need to assist you in an emergency how to operate necessary equipment. Also, label equipment and attach laminated instructions for equipment use.

• Store back-up equipment (mobility, medical, etc.) at your neighbor’s home, school, or your workplace.

• Arrange for more than one person from your personal support network to check on you in an emergency, so there is at least one back-up if the primary person you rely on cannot.

• If you are vision impaired, deaf or hard of hearing, plan ahead for someone to convey essential emergency information to you if you are unable to use the TV or radio.

• If you use a personal care attendant obtained from an agency, check to see if the agency has special provisions for emergencies (e.g., providing services at another location should an evacuation be ordered).

• If you live in an apartment, ask the management to identify and mark accessible exits and access to all areas designated for emergency shelter or safe rooms. Ask about plans for alerting and evacuating those with sensory disabilities.

• Have a cell phone with an extra battery. If you are unable to get out of a building, you can let someone know where you are and guide them to you. Keep the numbers you may need to call with you if the 9-1-1 emergency number is overloaded.

• Learn about devices and other
technology available (PDA’s, text radio, pagers, etc.) to assist you in receiving emergency instructions and warnings from local officials.

• Be prepared to provide clear, specific and concise instructions to rescue personnel. Practice giving these instructions (verbally, pre-printed phrases, word board, etc.) clearly and quickly.

• Prepare your personal support network to assist you with anticipated reactions and emotions associated with disaster and traumatic events (i.e. confusion, thought processing and memory difficulties, agitation, fear, panic, and anxiety).

• You don’t have to be the only one prepared – encourage others to be prepared and consider volunteering or working with local authorities on disability and other special needs preparedness efforts.

For a complete guide to emergency preparedness for all members of your family including seniors, pets and children check out this handy pamphlet.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

4 Reasons Why You Should Embrace Your Disability

We found some inspiration this week from!

4 Reasons Why You Should Embrace Your Disability

Disabilities are tied to struggles and setbacks, sending false messages that disabled individuals are incompetent and incapable. Those struggles are real, but can be overcome by embracing your disability. That means, learning to look squarely at success as a product of struggle, which can make a significant difference in your education, career and personal life. When you love yourself, disability and all, no one can deny you your power, passion and influence. It’s all about perspective!

Here are four positive products of embracing your disability.

1. You become a teacher
It’s natural for people to have misconceptions of disabilities and individuals that have them.  When you embrace your disability you begin to become an expert of it.  Therefore, you can enlighten others in a way that produces awareness and breakdown myths about disabled individuals. When a person asks about your disability, your experience, or expresses any inkling of curiosity, you have an opportunity to educate and share your personal and inspirational story of disability, struggle and success. Embracing your disability is more evidence that people with disabilities are not limited in what they can achieve.

2. You become a beacon of inspiration
Inspiration can come in many different forms. Disabilities can be a significant source for inspiration, although it can be fairly easy to feel alone or discouraged. Through your success over disability, whether in your work, school or even relationships, you can empower others to overcome their struggle. You never know the impact you have when you share your triumphs and tribulations. Perseverance inspires perseverance. In a sense, you can give others incentive to believe in themselves. Perhaps they, too, will learn to embrace their disability. When you embrace your unique challenges and win, you inspire greater human potential.

3. You become the owner
When you own your disability, you become proud. You regain your self-confidence and don’t waste any time trying to pretend or hide (your disability); you value your time and make the most of it. You become less interested in pity and more attuned to self-reflection and self-approval. Complaints and feelings of inadequacy cease. You become kind to yourself and rejoice in your individuality. You rise into the understanding that having a disability means that you are competent and not incompetent. Self-gratitude becomes a daily and natural practice. When you embrace your disability, comparisons end, enhancing your focus and enabling you to function at your best. Your disability becomes simply a merit badge of challenges overcome and the ability to succeed

4. You become an advocate
When you have a disability, you are a part of exceptional community, a lively community of extraordinary individuals with special gifts, skills and talents. Unfortunately, this same community continues to suffer misconception, mistreatment, misrepresentation and stigma.  When you love and embrace your disability, you stand proudly for a larger group of people. Educators, parents and people with disabilities will look towards you for advice, guidance, and most importantly for hope. You become a lifelong crusader for the disabled community. Thus, you are an ally, an advocate, a hero, and a friend.  You are a voice for the world to hear and the change the world needs to see.

The reasons you should embrace your disability far exceeds the above four points. In fact, there are an abundant of other reasons you should embrace your disability. Therefore, I want to encourage you to find more reasons to embrace your own disability. They are right in front of you. Ultimately, by embracing your disability, you can produce rewarding results for yourself, your family and your community. So make embracing your disability a lifetime and healthy habit!

Featured photo credit: Woman’s Hand Reaching With Hope To Catch A Balloon Against Blue Sky via

Thursday, January 14, 2016