Published July 19, 2005
Volume 13, Number 7

EastBay Innovations Offers the Developmentally Disabled a Chance To Excel in the Workforce

Having a job is something that many people take for granted. For the developmentally disabled, though, even a simple job can be profoundly important.

“It’s not really a great thing for your self-image if you don’t have the opportunity to participate in the workforce,” says Tom Heinz, executive director of East Bay Innovations, a local non-profit that seeks to empower developmentally disabled persons to live more independently. “They see their non-disabled siblings and family members doing it and they really want to do it, too.”

East Bay Innovations was formed in 1994 as a “supported living” agency, the first group which sought to provide support services to the developmentally disabled which would allow them to live on their own. “Before that, the people we serve had to be either largely independent already or, if they weren’t, they had to live with their family or in a group home or another type of residential facility,” he says.

The program was quite successful and helped many to begin to live more independent lives. Their clients’ appetite for autonomy grew and they began to ask for assistance in entering the job market, so East Bay Innovations began a new program, “supported employment,” in 1999.

“We profile what the people we serve want to do and then we go out and market that person to employers,” says Heinz. “Once we have an employer who’s interested in hiring a person, then we provide job coaching services, which can include helping people purchase a work wardrobe, helping them learn the public transportation routes, or even making sure they have an alarm clock so they’ll be able to get to work on time.”

The program doesn’t stop there, however. “For a good while when people start their jobs, usually for about three months, we’re there almost 100 percent of the time providing individualized training for folks so that they can learn to do their job as independently as possible.”

The job coach begins by meeting with the employer ahead of time to walk through the tasks that will be required in the position. East Bay Innovations then develops a teaching strategy for the new hire which is implemented on-site by both the job coach and the new employee’s supervisor and co-workers.

“We’re a teacher to the client but what we’re after is to create a long-term successful situation, and you can’t do that if the job coach is providing all the training and support to the individual. We want to help the employers to feel comfortable doing that as well.”

After a period that averages three months, the job coach ramps back to being on site just 20 percent of the time. Since the program is paid for by the State Department of Rehabilitation, there is no charge to employers. In fact, it’s just the opposite: Employers are given financial incentives to hire developmentally disabled workers, such as a work opportunity tax credit which is up to 40 percent of a worker’s wages for the first year they are employed.

“On top of that, it’s a good pool of folks: people who often haven’t had a chance before, not because they aren’t able workers but because they need the support services to get in the market and compete for jobs,” says Heinz. “They do need extra training up front, typically, but they’re also folks who really value jobs that aren’t always valued, like entry level positions. The people who we serve often look at these jobs as a huge opportunity—it’s a dream for a lot of folks to earn a paycheck. So they typically really value this opportunity and I think that’s something that’s increasingly rare.”

The program’s track record bears out Heinz’s words. So far, the program has a number of success stories, including one man who has worked at the Hacienda Crossings movie theaters for over five years.

Their success has been buoyed recently by the creation of a Business Advisory Council this year, which currently consists of 15 business leaders from Alameda County enterprises including ADP/ProBusiness who help East Bay Innovations with outreach and networking.

For further information on either hiring or joining the Business Advisory Council, contact Laurie Kotsonas, East Bay Innovations’ director of employment services, at (510) 618-1580 ext. 15. The group’s web site may be found at eastbayinnovations.com.


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