The Illusion of Inclusion – Roadblock #11
Disparity in “Supported Employment”
“Supported” employment rarely works for “educated professionals,” who have had career success in white collar jobs, prior to developing a mental disorder, or those whose histories are marked with alternating periods of stability and (increasing) periods of decompensation. Employers seek “dependable” employees.
Consider that in reality…
A. The cost of hiring an employee with a mental disorder far exceeds the government tax breaks offered.
B. Non-exempt positions often add insult to injury by increasing anxiety for those employees, who compensate for their symptoms by working longer hours to “get the job done.”
C. Placing individuals in positions for which they are overqualified is a recipe for disaster. Unchallenged, these employees often become bored; exacerbating symptoms of ADHD, anxiety, or depression. The symptoms in turn may slow their pace, reduce focus, and impact memory; often resulting in costly mistakes. In addition, long term employees may feel threatened by better educated or more experienced colleagues; responding in ways that do not support, and may even sabotage, a new hire’s success.
D. Unlike the emphasis placed on collaboration in school settings, adult services are not integrated. There is minimal collaboration among service providers, who are poorly paid, and (as past service recipients) may not be consistently dependable themselves, further decreasing the odds that highly skilled individuals will benefit from supported employment services. In addition, numerous reports indicate that providers display their own biases with regard to race, education, income level, and most noticeably age.
E. Employment counselors often lack training necessary to develop jobs, connect with employers in the community, and nurture contacts which might lead to competitive employment consistent with clients’ goals and preferences. While some clients may themselves have those sales and networking skills; they cannot advocate for themselves, which is why they seek an agency’s support in the first place.
Employment specialists must be proactive and understand how to “sell” their clients. In addition, while these programs define “gainful employment,” as “competitive employment within an integrated setting in a job that pays at least minimum wage,” SSDI recipients, who are well-educated and have a considerable work history, do not consider minimum wage to be “competitive,” or anything close to “gainful” employment. These positions will certainly not cover their monthly expenses, and puts them at greater risk for losing their homes, because it is highly unlikely that they have subsidized housing.
F. Vocational evaluation for career development is are often provided within a group setting. Individuals with diverse disabilities, levels of education, and cultural backgrounds are grouped together. Test administrators are typically limited in their understanding of mental impairments, and the spectrum along which they fall.
While the organizations providing services are accustomed to serving individuals with disabilities, the staff members may not all be familiar with the subtleties of the ADA. As a result, accommodations may be denied for those with “non-visible” impairments.
Clients with mental illnesses may experience further irritation, when prejudiced administrators respond aggressively to all, including those with cognitive impairments, who have asked for clarification. Confrontational individuals with criminal pasts may be uncooperative, because they have been mandated to “get through” the testing, further disrupting the process for those who have pursued career support.
G. Politics abound within non-profit career development centers. Individuals who are not a match for the center’s blue collar programs, or who will be “difficult” to place are quickly dismissed. Administrators are free to focus on “prospects,” who will increase revenue as in-house training participants. Losses are cut, new test takers are welcomed, and the organization’s placement success rate remains high…especially for those with physical disabilities, poor education, and limited career success in the past.
Rather than “rehabilitating” individuals and helping them to find employment with “accommodations,” they (ironically) claim the inability to function WITHOUT accommodations, suggests individuals with mental illnesses are “NOT work ready.”
H. The social security system often causes damage and impedes futures by requiring applicants to relive repeated failures; eroding self-esteem, and reinforcing the concept of “crazy,” as they FIGHT for SSDI benefits; despite paying premiums for a substantial number of years. Many are denied benefits after losing one job after the other…because working two months at a “reasonable” salary is perceived as “gainful” employment (even though it is not enough to pay the rent or mortgage for the complete year. Many individuals also accept reduced salaries to simply get their foot back in the door, and “try out” roles, which may be less demanding than those they held prior to becoming disabled.
As expressed within the July 2014 Report published by NAMI,
Our nation must invest in vocational strategies that work. The good news is that there are a number of effective supported employment programs. However, despite approximately $4 billion annually in federal funding for supported employment, employment rates for people with mental illness – which were abysmal to begin with – have declined even more over the last decade.
Many state vocational rehabilitation programs continue to focus on pre-employment training (“train and place”) rather than the “place and train” approach that has been proven to be far more successful in helping people with mental illness successfully enter or reenter the workforce. The state vocational rehabilitation model focuses on time-limited assistance, an approach that does not well serve people with mental illness, whose need for supports in the workplace may be long-term or intermittent.
Mental disorders are the leading cause of disability worldwide. Studies show that most adults with mental illness want to work, and approximately six out of 10 CAN succeed with appropriate supports. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of people served in state mental health systems receive supported employment services. Even a college education has not been an effective hedge against unemployment or underemployment.
According to NAMI, “People living with mental illness are the largest and fastest growing group of public disability income beneficiaries.”
Be Counted! Illuminate Mental Diversity at Work.
There is safety (AND strength) in numbers. “All for one, and one for all.”
Suggestions, feedback, comments, and questions welcomed at MindingDiversity@aol.com
© October 2015