It was a delightful surprise to hear from our cohort member Jody Verble last month that she had just created a website that offers tips and help on disability employment. Jody took part in our “research readiness” training. This course was put together for people with traumatic spinal cord injury to have a greater voice in the scientific studies that are done about that condition.
We invited our research readiness graduates and expert panel members to an On The Table event – one of the many gatherings held citywide in May as part of the Chicago Community Trust’s initiative to bring people together to spark conversations and projects for the public good.
“The message was TAKE ACTION,” Jody told us. “So I went home that day and bought this domain.”
The domain, disabilitypeeradvocates.com, is now a place to share information on disability and employment.
As a case manager working in employment services, Jody assists adults with disabilities in obtaining and maintaining employment. She is using funneling what she has learned on the job into this new resource.
“This project was set forth out of need,” she said. “The need for information on disability and employment to reach those who are looking for it, but are not sure where to look or even where to start.”
“If you were to Google ‘employment disability’ all that comes up is how to apply for SSI or SSDI.”
One special education teacher brought her adult daughter in to see her. Despite decades of experience in the school system, in special education, Jody said, “she had no idea what services were available. “I don’t think anyone knows,” the teacher said to her. “I wish I had met you 20 years ago.”
Recently, Jody “had two random calls from people who said their adult child with disability ‘were on the PUNS list’ and didn’t know what that meant” – they though it meant he was going to get services now. (The state selects individuals from the Prioritization for Urgency of Need for Services database as funding becomes available, and there is typically a long wait.)
With a BA in Psychology and an MA in health sciences, Jody was working as a job coach in the Walgreens REDI program, work she loved and where her efforts met with great success. After returning to work following her neck injury, that program was too physically demanding, “and my company accommodated that and moved me into career counseling,” where she works with job seekers who have a disability.
“I’ve enjoyed working with the population,” she said. “You meet all kinds of people and hear their stories; they’re just looking for an opportunity to be in the workforce, and the increased pride, dignity and independence that follows.” A couple of her clients are returning to work after several years. “I’m there to be a nudge, provide ideas, help them see their current strengths and weaknesses, and maybe parlay those into something new.”
“For my folks with intellectual disabilities, I use the word ‘carve-out’: It may not exist in a company, but I’m going to create it. That’s where my people skills come in. The best way to find a carve-out is not with a chain. I’m looking for a company that’s privately owned, a company somebody started 40 years ago, where there’s more of a chance of success.”
A recent carve-out she arranged involved a senior living residence that had posted a position for a dietary aide. “Usually, that’s multi-tasking, you need to learn a lot of skills – that can be a barrier,” she said. “I talked to them and got a carve-out where they just do one or two tasks, three or four hours, three days a week.”
“It’s all about my taking the time to create trust. It is definitely more work, but it’s kind of my job.”
One expert panel member who also came to the May On The Table event was Kevin Hull, who had served on the research readiness expert panel. “He said I should blog,” she told us, “and that he really looked forward to reading my blog.” This really encouraged her.
She had many challenges building the website, and ultimately had to hire a company to do it, and then recruit a friend to fix it. All the photos are by a friend of hers. She is only starting to build out the information that she wants to provide for job seekers and their supporters and the advocates. “I want to have a ton of resources.”
She chose the nature scenes and the site’s maple tree logo because “it brings serenity. People say it’s very calming, and that’s what I want.” As far as having pictures of people, “I’m never doing that,” she told me. “Because it pigeon-holes people. I’m going to do it symbolically. I show a road because it symbolizes where we need to go.”