The Maryland Department of Disabilities and the Developmental Disabilities Administration recently announced a partnership with five providers of vocational services throughout the state to implement a two-year initiative aimed at addressing employment barriers for job seekers with developmental disabilities. The Maryland Customized Employment Project, funded through Kessler Foundation of New Jersey, represents a collaboration among state agencies, service providers, and the business community. The goal of the project is to increase the training of support staff in proven methods of customized employment strategies which lead to long term, competitive community work.
“Employment is a gateway to community inclusion, financial stability, and meaningful relationships. Yet historically, employment options for people with developmental disabilities have been offered in sheltered, segregated environments, offering menial work for sub-minimum wages,” said Karen Lee, Executive Director of SEEC, one of the adult providers participating in the project. “This grant will allow us to pull together key stakeholders to create well-paying, competitive employment options which build on the strengths and interests of each job seeker while providing employers with a reliable, competent pool of prospective employees.”
The Maryland Customized Employment Project will be administered by the Discovery Consortium, an advisory committee comprised of representatives from the Department of Disabilities, the Developmental Disabilities Administration and the five partnering adult providers: SEEC (Montgomery County), Compass, Inc. (Montgomery and Prince Georges County), The Arc of Central Chesapeake (Arundel County), Spring Dell Center (Calvert County), and The Arc of Howard County. The funds from the Kessler Foundation will cover costs for the project’s initial two year implementation spanning January 2016 until December 2018. It is expected that during the implementation period stakeholders will identify a plan for continuation of the project’s initiatives beyond the scope of the grant period.
“DDA is thrilled to partner with the Department of Disabilities and the members of the Discovery Consortium. We look forward to preparing our workforce, partnering with businesses, and supporting job seekers with developmental disabilities and their families as Maryland pushes for employment as the first option for our state residents,” stated Bernie Simmons, Director of The Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA).
Of the more than 11,000 Marylanders receiving day supports from DDA, more than 9,000 are unemployed. The Maryland Customized Employment Project takes a holistic approach to employment by implementing the same strategies with job seekers, their family members, and the business community at large. Business Advisory Councils (BACs) will be formed in the participating provider communities to expand employment opportunities and mentor other businesses new to hiring people with developmental disabilities. Job seekers participating in the project will develop job skills and robust resumes which will be used to find long-lasting paid employment customized to their strengths, needs, and interests. In turn, Maryland businesses will benefit from a broadened pool of potential employees who are fully ready for work and committed to providing quality services for their employers.
Secretary of the Maryland Department of Disabilities, Carol Beatty, commented on the initiative by stating, “It is the vision of the Department of Disabilities to make real and measurable progress in closing the employment gap for those with disabilities in the state of Maryland. When potential applicants have the tools to succeed and employers are supported in their efforts to adopt inclusive hiring practices, we are able to cast the widest net possible and ensure businesses have the opportunity to fully tap into the immensely talented workforce in our state. We are excited to begin this important initiative with our partners and look forward to the progress provided by such an intense, collaborative effort.”