NILES, Ohio – Not so long ago, it was common for people with disabilities to finish school and go directly into a sheltered workshop, says Richard Mistovich, community employment director at the Trumbull County Board of Developmental Disabilities and Direct Link.
Today, county boards such as TCBDD help those with disabilities find their passions and potential and align them with careers.
TCBDD directly funds the Direct Link community employment department program where 14 staff members work with these individuals.
“We complete assessments for the individuals to find out where they are at,” Mistovich says. “Some are definitely on their path [and] they have the skills and are ready right now. Some we help identify barriers for and we put together programs to help them build up to overcome those barriers.”
For the assessment, individuals do work for employers that involves certain skills, and are paid for the work.
Job development is offered by the board, with Mistovich’s team looking for jobs at appropriate sites.
“For example, if the person says they want to be a dishwasher, we help to link them up with local restaurants,” he says. “If they are interested in being a stock clerk or working at a specific place like a Walmart, we make contacts there.”
TCBDD also offers job interview and readiness training, as well as “travel training,” where individuals are taught how to use the transportation system.
The program has been around for about six years, says Mistovich. During that time, it has helped around 100 individuals find jobs. Ongoing monitoring shows the staff is currently working with about 70 people.
Once an individual gets on a job, Mistovich says a job coach is provided who makes sure that person understands the job and meets the employer’s expectations.
Direct Link also helps with pre-employment transition services. This program prepares students to look at the available opportunities, including necessary skills and available training, and the physical capabilities required.
Tax incentives are available to some employers hiring those with disabilities, says Mistovich.
In Ohio, the Work Opportunity Tax Credit targets groups with significant work barriers, and allows an employer to apply for up to $2,400 per employee hired. The Disabled Access Credit allows employers to apply for a nonrefundable credit of up to $5,000 for necessary access materials.
If structural or transportation barriers require businesses to make modifications to their buildings, they may claim a deduction of up to $15,000 a year through the Architectural Barrier Removal Tax Deduction.
The Direct Link program also can help students receive school credits for work training. Through partnerships with some businesses, Mistovich says students can be taken out of the classroom for on-site job training.
Shepherd of the Valley is one of Direct Link’s partners.
Tamara Salvino, associate director at Shepherd of the Valley-Howland, says the senior living center is a job-training site for TCBDD clients. It brings Fairhaven School students on-site five days a week. The age range is high school to 22.
Shepherd of the Valley has hired two employees, in the dietary and housekeeping departments, that went through the training program.
“What’s nice about this program is that they are completely trained while they are here,” Salvino says. “They know all of the tasks and we observe work ethics, interactions with residents, and we can see if they fit in before we hire them.”
Coaches teach the students skills that could be used even if they were to be hired somewhere else, says Salvino.
“If you are looking for long-term commitment and retention, they have been specifically trained to do those tasks,” she says. “There is a good chance they’ll stay with you.”