By Roberta Dunn, Executive Director of FACT Oregon

We’ve most likely all heard the saying if at first you don’t succeed, try, and try again, and maybe you’ve heard that it is ridiculous to try doing something the same way over and over again expecting a different result.  With the release of our Employment First video series, we’ve heard back from many of you, and this blog will explore a common thread.

Some have shared of their prior efforts, their many appointments with Vocational Rehabilitation (VR), and their work with multitudes of job developers, coaches, and others in the employment field. You have expressed your frustration, exhaustion, and resentment. Some have spoken of the personal pain felt by both the parent and the individual seeking employment with each failed attempt. Is it ridiculous to try, and try again, and expect a different result? May I humbly say, wearing my hat as a parent who would rather have a root canal than have to reopen my son’s VR plan, “no”.

Navigating the “system” is a bear…no two ways about it. However, Oregon is investing in making the system better, and it is making progress every day. There is a growing pool of enthusiastic, visionary employment providers adding desperately needed capacity, and the Offices of Developmental Disability Services (ODDS) and VR are working on policy and practices that streamline the process of finding the right one to work with. There is no magic wand, and I refuse to sell you a bill of goods. I cannot promise that supporting the individual in your life in the pursuit of employment will be easy or swift, but I can say with absolute surety that there is an earnest effort to make it so.

Some of you aren’t sold on this. You may wonder why it even matters.

Here’s my big three reasons on why it is so important to try again (and again): 

Community is where we feel connected, welcomed, and where we have relationships in which we both receive support and have the opportunity to contribute. For many of us, this sense of community resonates from our place of employment.

Economic security is elusive for most individuals experiencing disability, in fact most live their lives in poverty solely dependent on their public benefits. Recent establishment of the ABLE savings account and other savings options such as Individual Development Accounts (IDA) are a game changer. Individuals can work, earn, and save in ways like never before. A dream vacation, new piece of technology, even a home are all things individuals can attain through work.

Identity and how we see ourselves is the pinnacle of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Too often individuals experiencing disability have their basic needs met, including their physical needs and safety. But we forget that is only the foundation of the hierarchy. All of us—you, me, and those in our lives experiencing disability—MUST have the opportunity to meet our psychological needs of belonging, love, and esteem. Ultimately, we achieve self-actualization- the awareness that I am a person full of potential, with strengths and gifts, and that I’m the captain of my destiny.

So when the day is done, it’s not just about having a job. It’s about the role having a job plays in the pursuit of a whole life.

I encourage you to continue sharing your stories with us and remind you that there is power in your story. Keep an eye out for opportunities to influence systems change with your story. Two opportunities that come to mind (and FACT Oregon will share others as we hear of them) include the State Advisory Council for Special Education (SACSE) and the State Rehabilitation Council (SRC). Both have opportunities for public input. SACSE would be appropriate if you have a young adult either in or recently finished with school transition services. The SRC is the advisory council for VR and provides an opportunity to share your experience working with VR.

I want to close with a reminder that the last piece of our Employment First video series is a training on Community Building. When so much of what we are trying to navigate appears to be out of our control, this last training will provide insights, tips and tools that we as parents can implement immediately, without delay, to support the pursuit of whole lives for our children.