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Unlocking Job Success for People with Developmental Disabilities

November 24, 2023

Are you seeking fresh, effective ways to support your loved one with a disability in finding a fulfilling paid job?

There are people with all sorts of disabilities and disability levels that have paid employment, and paid employment is possible for your loved one, too. There are all sorts of jobs for people with disabilities.

In this podcast episode, Milton Tyree, an Employment Specialist for people with developmental disabilities, teaches us the best practices of customized employment that you can use to support your loved one in getting a paid job.

Want to know more? Watch the short Video OR read the Transcript below.

Episode Abreviated Transcript Below:

Eric: Welcome to this episode of the Empowering Ability Podcast. Today, I’m excited to have with us Milton Tyree, who’s based in the U.S. and brings a wealth of professional and personal experience in helping people with disabilities have strong work roles. Milton uses the principles of Social Role Valorization (SRV) as the foundation of his work. He assists individuals and organizations to include, involve, and appreciate people who are often misunderstood and rejected. Milton will share his insights about customized employment and how to establish a well-suited job for people with disabilities from the start.

I’d like to welcome Milton. How are you?

Milton: I’m doing well, Eric. It’s good to see you. Thanks for inviting me.

Eric: I’m glad you’re here. I’ve had the pleasure of attending your 4-day workshop on customized employment and have invited you to speak to families I work with in the EA Club multiple times. Your wealth of information on supporting people with disabilities, our loved ones, in gaining employment has been invaluable.

Milton, to start, could you share a story of someone who struggled with employment but, through different approaches, successfully gained and kept a job?

Milton: Sure, Eric. One story that stands out is about a man named Tim. He represents a before and after scenario in employment support, illustrating the evolution of my understanding of this field.

I began my career as a high school special education teacher. Frustrated with my students’ lack of progress, I moved to a sheltered workshop, then learned about supported employment in 1981. I helped start a nonprofit called Community Employment. This is where Tim’s story begins. He was part of a work transition program I helped establish at a local high school. Initially, we placed him in a small grocery store, which highlighted his difficulties rather than his abilities.

After years of learning and teaching at the University of Kentucky, I returned to direct services with a deeper understanding of employment support, particularly Social Role Valorization Theory. Tim was the first person I applied these new insights with, using a process called Discovery. We discovered Tim’s innate mechanical aptitude, which led to a job at Product Handling Equipment, a company making conveyor systems. This role suited Tim’s skills and interests, eliminating previous issues like excessive talking and inability to stay on task.

Tim’s story profoundly influenced my approach to supported employment, teaching me to understand individuals’ capabilities deeply before making assumptions about their employment potential.

Eric: That’s a fantastic insight, Milton. It shows a different way of thinking about supporting someone with a disability to gain and maintain employment. Tim’s story is a powerful example.

Milton, can you share how long Tim’s employment lasted?

Milton: Sure, Tim’s employment lasted until the company closed, about 12 years or so. During this time, he continued to learn and grow within the company.

Eric: That’s a substantial period, showing real progress. Thanks for sharing that. Tim’s story highlights important aspects of good supported employment. Could you share some key principles that have evolved over time in supported employment?

Milton: Certainly. One major shift was moving from fitting a person to an available job to finding a job that fits the person. This approach involves understanding what someone is good at and the nature of their work environment.

In 1988, Mike Callahan and Brad Garner wrote a book introducing the vocational profile, now called Discovery. This process involves building a relationship with the individual to understand their interests and skills, leading to more successful employment outcomes. It’s not a linear process like a test; it involves intuition and challenging former assumptions about what a person can or cannot do.

For example, with Tim, I initially thought he needed a job that involved constant movement. However, through Discovery, we learned he had a knack for mechanical tasks and could stay focused in the right environment. This led to his successful employment at Product Handling Equipment, where he built subassemblies for conveyor systems.

Another important aspect is the shift in how training and support are provided in the workplace. The goal is to use typical, valued methods of instruction as much as possible, starting from the first day. This approach helps the employee integrate better into the work environment and be seen as a valuable team member, not just as a client of a support program.

Research, such as David Mank’s study, supports the benefits of this approach, showing that employees who receive typical support earn more and integrate better into their work environments. It’s intuitive that people perform better in jobs that are a good fit for them and where they are seen and appreciated for their contributions.

Now, let’s talk about Customized Employment, a key shift in our approach. In Tim’s case, his role at Product Handling Equipment can be seen as an early form of job carving, where specific tasks were identified that suited his skills. However, Customized Employment has evolved to focus more broadly on leveling the playing field for job candidates. It involves identifying tasks that fit the individual’s conditions, interests, and contributions and matching them with companies that can benefit from these tasks.

We look at unmet needs within a company and consider tasks that could provide a particular benefit. This approach moves away from traditional job descriptions and focuses on what the individual can offer, aligning their skills with the company’s needs. This evolution in Customized Employment has been significant in improving employment outcomes for people with disabilities.

Eric: You mentioned the importance of identifying tasks that benefit both the job candidate and the company. Can you elaborate on this?

Milton: Absolutely. In customized employment, we focus on three areas: unmet needs, tasks of particular benefit, and tasks better performed by others. For unmet needs, we identify tasks within a company that aren’t being done efficiently and match them with the abilities of the job candidate. Tasks of particular benefit involve leveraging the unique strengths of the individual that can add significant value to the company. Lastly, tasks better performed by others are where we find tasks being done by highly paid, credentialed staff that could be efficiently done by an entry-level employee like Tim, freeing up those higher-paid individuals for more specialized work.

Eric: That makes sense, focusing on a balanced approach that benefits both the employee and employer. Do you notice any difference in success rates between family-owned companies and larger corporations in this approach?

Milton: Yes, customized employment can work in any company size, but smaller businesses often provide better odds. They typically have more flexibility and can make quicker decisions, as seen in Tim’s case with Product Handling Equipment. Larger corporations might require more layers of approval, which can complicate the process.

Eric: That’s insightful. For a mom listening and wanting to support her child in finding employment, what advice do you have?

Milton: My advice is to interview various support agencies to understand their approach to employment. There’s a range in understanding and execution of these concepts. Families can also learn and apply these principles themselves, potentially in partnership with a service. I’ve seen parents successfully negotiate jobs for their children using these methods. Another option is hiring someone with expertise in customized employment if funds are available.

Eric: Great advice. For someone wanting to learn more about customized employment or your training, where can they go?

Milton: I’m happy to connect people with resources. There’s a wealth of training available outside of what I do personally, including online resources and conferences. I can also make connections with people in universities or service providers.

Eric: Thanks, Milton. Any final thoughts on employment for people with disabilities?

Milton: Just that having a good job is a vital part of life. It shapes how people see themselves and are perceived by others. It’s about genuine opportunity to contribute. Don’t lose heart; a lot is possible, and it can make a significant difference.

Eric: Thank you for joining us, Milton, and for the wealth of information on supporting people with disabilities in employment. To our listeners, subscribe for more insights and resources. Also, check out my 7 strategies for more independence PDF guide, which can be helpful for growing your loved one’s capabilities and independence, aiding in employment and other areas of life. Thanks for listening, and we’ll catch you in the next episode.





P.S. Ready to unlock a brighter, more independent future for your loved one with a developmental disability?

Click below for your FREE copy of the “7 Strategies for More Independence” guide. Each page is packed with actionable tips to boost their capabilities and confidence.

Download Your FREE Guide Now: https://www.empoweringability.org/independence-tips/

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