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Employment: A crucial step towards fulfillment for those with disabilities

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JasonParis
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Flickr

The Arc New York supports people with intellectual and developmental disabilities with programs, services and advocacy work. Their aim is inclusion. By providing guidance to family members and focusing on indepencence and comfort, they believe people with disabilities can have quality of life within their community.

This time on "Take Care," we spoke with Tania Seaburg, chief policy and operations officer for the organization. Our conversation centers on employment efforts, one of The Arc's key approaches to providing a more normal life for a portion of the population that is often at a disadvantage otherwise.

“Sometimes, the viewpoint can be looking at the things that we can’t do or that we’re not good at,” Seaburg said. “When you have employment, it focuses on all of the things that you can do [and] all of the contributions that you’re making.”

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The Arc New York has 52 chapters across the state, with at least one in every county, and Seaburg said this provides local leadership for the needs of each county. Originally, its goal was to move people out of institutions and into the community, but now the focus is more on person-centered planning.

Focusing on each person’s abilities to integrate them into employment opportunities leads to personal opportunities, like social connections, and increased acceptance, Seaburg said. To help provide these opportunities for people with disabilities, The Arc New York partners with numerous organizations throughout the state.

Some of these partners include school districts, grocery store chains, stadiums and small businesses, providing resources like pre-employment training and basic needs.

Funding for these efforts comes largely from Medicaid, as well as training grants and contributions from local partners and donors, but Seaburg said the organization sometimes struggles to find sufficient funding for everything its 30,000 employees would like to accomplish.

“Some of the challenges we face is: 'Is the funding for the service that we’re providing sufficient?'” Seaburg said. “If it’s not, then we’re nonprofit; you can’t provide what’s not funded.”

Tax credits at the state and local level incentivize businesses to employ people with disabilities, and Seaburg said it's important for employers to keep an open mind to realize these employees may not be able to do 100 percent of what the position entails. Instead of excluding a prospective employee on these grounds, she said the best approach is assigning a person with disabilities responsibilities they can fulfill so they can contribute effectively.

Looking toward the future, The Arc New York is hoping to incorporate new technology into their programs, like apps that give people prompts to remind them of certain responsibilities, which can be a large help to those with disabilities to get and keep a job. Broadly, Seaburg said the organization’s success and overall integration improvement will depend on a joint effort between government leaders and local partners to create acceptance on many levels.

“I certainly think we need good public policy at the federal and state level,” Seaburg said. “Then, we need our community partners to understand what we do and what we’re trying to accomplish. We need providers like us to support people.”