As any job-seeker knows, employment is not always easy to procure, but when the job-seeker has autism, the search can be that much more challenging. That’s where Frazer Center’s Supported Employment program can help.
Drew, an adult participant at Frazer since 2012, lost his first job when a new supervisor didn’t take the time to get to know Drew and learn about the sensory issues that often accompany autism. But Drew’s abilities abound, and Supported Employment Specialist Unondus Walker knows this about him. She has been working closely with Drew to discover his dreams, goals, and skills. For months and months, she and Drew “pounded the pavement” in search of the perfect employment fit.
Meanwhile, Adult Program Director Bill Payne was reaching out to the Frazer board members on the Adult Program Committee. Enter Jonathan Miller, Manager of Experience Design with North Highland, a worldwide consulting company based in Atlanta.
Bill made the business case to Jonathan for supported employment, explaining how hiring a person with a disability is not an act of charity, it’s good business. It was an easy sell for Jonathan who says that North Highland is becoming more intentional about diversity and inclusion. “It’s becoming something clients ask about more and more when evaluating whether to work with us,” he says. “We also know that when people feel comfortable to bring their whole self to work and feel included, we can deliver superior performance.”
Jonathan brainstormed with others from North Highland. They realized that employees in their print shop were spending valuable time doing routine tasks, so a new position was created to take on those tasks, freeing up the current employees for other duties.
Next, Unondus visited North Highland to evaluate the environment for things such as the noise level, which could potentially lead to sensory overload for Drew and other job seekers. Once there, she realized the quiet calm in the multi-floor office would be a perfect fit for Drew, and he applied for the position.
Fast forward and Drew has now been a North Highland employee for two months. “He’s doing a great job!” says a fellow staff member. For the first few weeks, either Unondus or Frazer Job Coach Christine Riley attended work with Drew to ensure that he was fulfilling his responsibilities and to help his co-workers with any communication issues. When the MARTA bus schedule did not allow for Drew to arrive on time, Unondus helped Drew negotiate a different schedule that would keep him out of rush hour traffic.
Now Christine shows up at North Highland about twice a week just to check in with Drew. His co-workers give glowing reports, and Drew is very content with the situation. When asked what he loves best about his new job, he says, “Seeing new people. They treat me nicely. And I get to move around a lot. I get exercise.”
Christine will remain Drew’s job coach, but the goal is for her to pay a visit just twice a month, or whenever Drew or other North Highland staff feel like they need her support. It looks like that goal is well within sight, thanks to all the champions in this story.
That’s how customized supported employment works. It takes a village, and it takes new ways of thinking on the part of businesses. “I’d like to be able to talk to our clients about this too,” says Jonathon, “because I think there is huge demand for being more intentional about diversity and inclusion in the workplace.”
As for Drew, he is enjoying his new paycheck and newfound independence. He hopes to be at North Highland “forever.”
If you are interested in learning more about incorporating customized supported employment in your work environment, contact Adult Program Director Bill Payne at firstname.lastname@example.org.