Employment First

Robert, Panera Bread employee for over 5 years

At Frazer, we believe that every adult who dreams of having a job should have the opportunity to live that dream. Through our Supported Employment Program for adults with developmental disabilities, our staff spends time getting to know each individual’s interests and helps evaluate that person’s skills. Our staff also works on nurturing relationships within the business community to find employment matches that are a win for all parties involved. Once a match is made, we provide continued support with site visits and trainings for the employee and, as needed, for the employer and co-workers too.

Bill Payne, Frazer’s Director of Adult Programs, believes that employment should be the first option for people with disabilities coming out of high school. “Parents need to have dreams for their children with disabilities. In the past, when parents got a diagnosis, the dreaming stopped,” he says. Change is happening, however slowly, as more individuals with disabilities are starting to live independently and maintain jobs.

Josh recently celebrated his 1-year anniversary with AMS Vans

Helping with that change is the Employment First Act, which Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed into law in May of this year. The act is “bi-partisan, common-sense legislation that establishes employment as the first and preferred option for all people who want to work, regardless of their disability,” as the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) informs. The act defines “competitive integrated employment” as work “…performed on a full-time or part-time basis in a setting in which an individual with a disability interacts with individuals without disabilities in all aspects of the job function and for which such individual with a disability is compensated at or above the level of salary and benefits paid by the employer for the same or similar work performed by individuals without disabilities.” The law also establishes a council of 14, including people with developmental and physical disabilities, representatives from government, business, and education sectors, and disabilities professionals, who will guide policy decisions.

This is a promising step toward a stronger, more inclusive environment in Georgia. Washington was the first state to pass such legislation twelve years ago, and according to 2016 statistics, 87% of Washington State individuals with developmental disabilities participate in integrated employment services. Georgia comes in at 20%, one percentage point above the national average.

Hiring people with disabilities is not an act of charity on behalf of an employer. As Adult Program Director Bill Payne says, “I think most people would be surprised to find out that when you employ a person with a developmental disability, you get a dedicated employee. If you hire them, and they like their job, you’ve got an employee for life.” In addition to that, if an employer hires a person who is in Frazer Center’s Adult Program, that person’s job coach is part of the package. If the employee needs to learn a new skill, “we’ll do that for you,” says Bill. Currently, Frazer Center is providing supported employment services to individuals working at several local businesses, including Home Depot, Salon Red, Panera Bread, Publix, Kroger, McDonald’s, and Chick-fil-A.

Alicia, Home Depot employee for 6 years and Frazer Center board member (ex officio)

One such individual is Alicia Day, who attended Frazer as a child and returned after graduating from high school. Through Frazer’s Supported Employment Program, Alicia got a job with Home Depot. Six years later, she’s still loving it. What she loves about it the most is “to be around different people in the community, helping people,” she says. “I like getting a paycheck too!”

With about 20% of the US population living with some kind of disability, Employment First initiatives are a crucial part of diversity hiring. “This is a human resources need across the nation,” according to the US Dept of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, “and individuals who have a disability have been shown, through many studies, to increase productivity, increase safety standards, increase overall job satisfaction, reduce turnover, and help employers have a really engaged workforce that helps them achieve their goals.”

As Bill says, “We’re not looking for [employers] to make allowances. The people we support want to work, can work, and will help your bottom line.”

If you are an employer interested in learning more about Frazer’s Supported Employment Program, contact Bill Payne, Director of Adult Programs, at b.payne@frazercenter.org.

Click here to read Georgia’s Employment First Act in its entirety.

Sarah, employee of Salon Red for over 4 years


Aaron, Publix employee for over 10 years


Elaine was named Employee of the Year at her McDonald’s


Larry, employee of Home Depot for over 3 years