October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
I especially appreciate this awareness because of personal family experiences. Sometimes these awareness may seen trivial or just too many, but no one is asking you to get a degree in each and every issue. They are just asking you to become familiar with it, to have a little understanding, and to not be judgmental toward people you don’t understand. Many mental and physical illnesses and mental and physical differences are not seen so people don’t understand them.
I have children with high functioning Autism and like others like me I sometimes get frustrated with other people who don’t believe my kids are facing challenges because they look “normal”. I am not trying to downplay people with physically obvious disabilities. While things are better for them than when I was a kid, there is still a lot of ground to cover. I’m just writing about my own families personal experiences.
When I say people don’t believe my kids face challenges due to having Autism, I want to explain that it isn’t always someone being obstinate, but often it’s just ignorance. My kids don’t mind telling folks they have Autism, but it’s not something they announce everywhere they go. They don’t have a special mark or a tee shirt with it written on it. So when they act odd or say something socially unacceptable people just assume they are rude, mean and so on.
This is where raising awareness for Autism and other mental and physical comes in handy. If people actually take some time to learn about it, listen to those talking about it and not assume they already know everything, then more folks won’t just to conclusions so quickly.
As a mom of Autistic kids I fail at this from time to time. However, the more I’ve learned about Autism and various mental challenges the more I stop myself before judging and wonder if the person acting oddly has Autism or something unseen they are dealing with. That doesn’t mean I excuse inappropriate behavior, but it does mean I change the way I deal with it. I can point out a problem or correct an issue with kindness and the readiness to learn more about the person.
Many people with high functioning Autism can learn to “act” normal and even come off as neuritypical, aka normal. The rate at which they learn this differs and is more challenging for some then others. Even the ones who have mastered it work harder mentally then they appear. Rather then things coming natural to them they have to mentally work at it.
As a mom knowing the progress of my autistic kids isn’t easy. How they conduct themselves at home, at school, at work, etc can vary. While they may behave well at home, there are so many possible triggers at school and other places which can drastically change their behavior and their ability to maintain calm and keep their manors.
When it comes to working, so many things affect them. For instance Walmart. My daughter was looking for work and a lot of folks brought up Walmart. Problem is, it’s too large, it has big bright florescent lighting. Both issues for her. Often the easy to get jobs have issues like that for people with mental challenges.
My children work with the local job services. The job services provide training classes, sometimes clothes for interviews and so on. They also help their clients find work and if the work place will work with them the services will pay the clients instead of the job place for a certain amount of time. After the time is up the job place can say good bye or hire them on themselves. This way the client gets training, work experience and something to include on their resume.
My oldest daughter, Hannah, now 18, got her first job through the services at Pet Co. It seemed like the perfect place because she loves and is good with animals. They started her off stocking shelves. Over time she began to ask about learning other jobs but they insisted she continue stocking shelves. She did learn about fish but that was because she asked. When the services person came in to check on her progress she heard one of the supervisors tell the services person that Hannah wouldn’t take initiative and do anything else. This of course upset her because she had tried. The job ended when summer was over.
The next job the services found for her was at Biggby Coffee Co. It’s a coffee shop like Starbucks but not quite as pricey or high end. Again she was excited about it. Things started off well. The owner told the services person he was very happy with her. He liked that she was artistic and everything seemed peachy.
Now these employers whom the job services are working with are told about what ever disability their are dealing with. However, it has become very clear to us that that doesn’t mean they have any idea what the “disability” entails and that they will inform or even educate their other supervisors and employees about it.
While working at Biggby’s, Hannah didn’t see the owner much. He had several other Biggby’s he owned and spent time at. Most of the time she worked with a young lady I will call Beth. Beth’s older sister was the manager and the managers best friend was either the assistant manager or another employee. Neither of them were there much either. Mostly when Hannah worked she worked with Beth and no one else.
Although my daughter started off with a positive bang, she had trouble learning the various specialty coffees. She learned the simple ones but for some reason the manager got annoyed with her and told her she was not allowed behind the counter. So she spent the rest of her time working there moping and cleaning tables. No one explained to her why and they never told or complained about her to the services.
One particular day Beth was not working so Hannah worked with a young man who had been away for a long time. A rush of people came in and the drive through became full causing a lot of trouble for the young man. Although Hannah was told to not go behind the counter she felt bad for the young man and decided to help by only making the easy drinks she knew how to make. After some time the manager and her friend arrived. They quickly shewed Hannah out of the way. Hannah didn’t have time to put the shot glass she had in her hand down in the correct place so she put it on the near by counter before finding a place to stand that was out of the way across the room. This resulted in either the manager or her friend knocking the glass off the counter and shattering it on the floor.
When Hannah told me what happened I told her to call her services person and tell them what happened right away. When she did the services lady told her not to go back to work and that she would contact them. When the services lady contacted the coffee shop the manager told her that Hannah dropped a glass, got glass in a costumers coffee and tried to serve it to them. I don’t believe the services people believed Hannah at first. But after we met with them in person and Hannah told her side of the story they seemed to be more convinced since her account actually added up.
Regardless of Hannah being wrongfully blamed and treated (like a cleaning maid) there is always something to learn and take from the experience and improve on. Hannah’s mistake was not contacting the services more often and letting them know about how she was being treated. It’s possible some of the conflict could have been avoided if the services knew that they were not allowing her to work behind the counter. After all, the point of it all is for the clients to learn the different aspects of working at the work place and be taught as well as being helped with improving things like communication, social issues and so on. As far as Biggby, well, they also should have called the services and kept them informed about Hannah’s progress instead of just having her clean and learn nothing. And maybe hire managers who are not clickie and don’t lie about their free employees and maybe have a owner who regularly attends how to manage people seminars, and so on and so on. Oh and maybe take a few classes or read articles online about autism or what ever mental challenge or disability their employees or free labor people have so they can help them and work with them better. And also teach their managers and supervisors about such things. Thus, the point of this months awareness and this blog.
I may have wrongfully indicated that the manager was “clickie”. She just sounded that way to me. She also lost interest in hiring someone we knew when she learned she knew Hannah. So, maybe I’m right, maybe not.And maybe it just sounds like I’m complaining and venting. Understand that I am using this as a true example of what life is like for people with disabilities in the work place. And I would guess it’s not even the worst story out there.
After Biggby the services found another coffee shop for Hannah to work at. This time it was a privately owned one and the owner and her husband are there working the place themselves. As a mom, I have a hard time knowing when it’s appropriate or not to intervene. I want my daughter to be independent but if things keep failing, then maybe I need to step in minimally. Seeing as the jobs are services paid experimenting with this is probably best now rather then later when she is hired and paid by her employer instead. So I went in on her first day, introduced myself to the owner and asked if she was familiar with autism. She told me her oldest son has autism. Right away I felt a sense of hope.
Hannah has been working there for a while now and so far so good. There was a miscommunication a while ago and the owner talked with the services about it, they talked to Hannah about it and it was cleared up and things were better then ever. They are actually teaching Hannah how to do just about everything. Some things take longer then others and they have been very patient and encouraging. It’s really wonderful to find a place that doesn’t take advantage of the free labor and actually puts time and effort into helping my daughter learn the ropes. I wish this wasn’t so odd. But people really don’t understand how difficult it is for people with various disabilities to get employment, then when they do find employment, to actually keep it.
The more people become aware and educated the more they can help others become aware and educated, the more people with disabilities can find a place in this world and take care of themselves and earn their own dollars and feel empowered. Many of these people have amazing talents to share with us, they often have a divergent way of thinking because their life isn’t normal and that sort of thinking can make huge necessary positive changes and additions to life. But if they are continuously misunderstood, not hired, easily fired, and so on, not only are they missing out and barley surviving, if at all, but so is everyone else.
So educate yourself. Encourage others to do the same. Step up when you see abuse and unfairness around you. Be a light, a beacon to those around you. Awareness is like a indicator light saying, “Hey, attention is needed here!”. And when it comes to people being hired, and not used and fired, there should be an big indicator light blinking because there is much improvement to be had.
My daughter gave me permission to write about her experiences in order to help others. I think what she went through is an excellent example of why there needs to be awareness and how so many people are ignorant of the everyday struggles people like Hannah go through. I hope this will help others to improve themselves as well as reach out to those around them wither in person, online, through media, et cetera.
Be sure to join the Facebook awareness event page for Oct. 2016 at https://www.facebook.com/events/1818899638328565/?notif_t=plan_reminder¬if_id=1475290786535584 and let others know about it. It’s an event that is all month long and beyond and it’s located everywhere.
You can help by talking with friends, family, co-workers and people you see here and there. Write about it or share helpful articles on social media and blogs as well as share on vlogs. You can use your Facebook banner a place to post awareness. You can ask for more ideas and information on the above Facebook link and you can get more info from the link below.
For more info from the US Department of Labor and for downloadable material go to https://www.dol.gov/odep/topics/ndeam/.
I made a banner you may use of you like. Here it is for you to copy. –