By Arlene Jones
Sitting in the dentist chair, numbness spreading through my jaw in anticipation of a root canal, my cell phone rang. It was a call from my daughter’s employer. Briana had yet to arrive at her workplace, no answer from her cell phone, and was now nearly 15 minutes late. She was always on time. Well, this was another first.
She had gotten really good riding public transportation to and from work over the past year, which included waiting for the transfers and crossing busy streets. Her employer set out to drive along her bus route to see if he could spot her, while my husband got busy calling the bus company.
Our family’s expectations and dreams for both our children have always been happiness, self-sufficiency, and success in the community. Our definition of success was very individualized, with employment being an important piece of the expectation. Having an intellectual or cognitive disability was not going to be a barrier. Was it going to be easy? No, probably not, but the payoff is well worth the effort.
Employment is what a person does after high school, whether continuing on to college or not. Employment fills your day and your life. It defines who you are in our society. When people get together, some of the first questions brought up are “So, what do you do?” and “Where do you work?” Working also identifies you as a contributing member of society; as a taxpayer, one becomes an economic contributor and consumer of goods and services.
Employment is what connects you with your community. For one thing, you are out and about, providing you with new opportunities to develop connections and find out what is going on in your community. For example, the bus drivers on Briana’s route recognize her and engage in small talk like they do with many of their passengers. She has learned about different events happening in the community through some of these conversations. Likewise, as she travels to her job, she runs into former high school classmates, friends, and acquaintances, which she greatly enjoys.
A job gives a person the power to spend money on things that s/he wants or needs. Briana is 26 years of age, and her current employer has employed her for almost 5 years. (This is not the first business for which she has worked.) Her job has helped develop her sense of self-worth and confidence, and is leading to self-sufficiency. She is able to access healthcare insurance based on her own work record. Seeing my daughter continue to grow in self-confidence and independence has been incredibly rewarding! For more on Briana’s employment journey, read Using Vocational Rehabilitation and Self-Directed Funds for Job Development.
Root canals take a while, and by the end of my session with the dentist, the sheriff had visited our home. As the officer was taking information from my husband, the phone rang. It was Briana, none worse for wear: she had gotten on the wrong bus. She realized her mistake, and talked with the bus driver who let her know that he would be circling back to the transit center where she could get on her regular bus to work. Briana was not at all alarmed. She knew where she was, and that she would be getting to work “no problem.
While there may continue to be hair-raising incidents like this from time to time, we know that she will continue her journey to self-sufficiency thanks to the support and satisfaction she receives from having a job.
For more information about employment, please see FACT Oregon’s page on Transition to Adulthood.
Arlene Jones is dedicated to supporting individuals with disabilities achieve economic sufficiency and inclusion.