Archive for May, 2016
In the last post, Memorial Day and People with Disabilities I talked about how Aaron, my son who has autism, worked at a cemetery after he graduated from high school.
To the best of my recollection, this is how it worked:
The Landscaping Mobile Work Crew
Definition: Supported Employment Model: Mobile Work Crew
A small crew of persons with disabilities (up to 6) works as a distinct unit and operates as a self-contained business that generates employment for their crew members by selling a service. The crew works at several locations within the community, under the supervision of a job coach. The type of work usually includes janitorial or groundskeeping. People with disabilities work with people who do not have disabilities in a variety of settings, such as offices and apartment buildings. Supported Employment
Sometimes Cemeteries are for the living.
JOB ANOUNCEMENT: The cemetery board posts the lawn maintenance jobs for bids in the local paper.
The County Board of Developmental Disabilities (CBDD) job developer bid the job. Because of the size of the cemetery, the administration of the cemetery awarded several contracts. (For the five years I was involved, the CBDD got one of the contracts each year.)
The CBDD paid the workers minimum wage from this contract. Each member of the Mobile Work Crew was already on Medicaid/Medicare and the seasonal wages were within the limits of their SSI and SSDI requirements.
The job developer negotiated the details of the contract as well as was the contact person for any problems between the cemetery administration and the board as well as members of the mobile work crew.
The cemetery provided the equipment. There was a garage-type lounge for all the crews and workers with a table and restrooms. They could mingle with the other workers from other lawn companies (non-handicapped) in the lounge. There was some natural support from the other workers who were doing the same jobs and the same sweating.
SUPERVISOR OF MOBILE WORK CREW
There were six people with disabilities and a supervisor on the crew. The supervisor was a year long salaried employee of the county board of developmental disabilities. She had experience working with people with disabilities and had been trained as a special education teacher. She had total responsibility for keeping the workers safe, happy AND getting the job done. If she needed extra help, she would go to the job developer or her other CBDD staff.
Aaron’s job coach was under her supervision (because she was in charge of the whole job) but worked independently with Aaron.
All the adults with disabilities would be transported from their homes to the sheltered workshop. The supervisor would drive a small van, similar to the vans the other lawn service companies used, from the sheltered workshop to the cemetery and then back to the sheltered workshop for the trip home.
On days when it rained, the crew could stay home if they wanted, or hang out at the sheltered workshop. If there was work at the sheltered workshop (usually not) they were able to jump in. If there was no work they could hang out with their friends and play cornhole, bingo or whatever the activity.
Before the crew began work, the supervisor and job developer made task analyses of each of the jobs. The individuals with disabilities applied and interviewed with the supervisor. If there was a good match, the training, modifications and accommodations were added to the individual’s Individual Service Plan (ISP).
Who knew there were mowers about a foot wide which fit easily between the older tombstones? There were four mowers in this mobile crew.
There were two weed-wackers or whatever they are called. (The cords swing around and cut the weeds which the mowers miss.)
There was a “task analysis” of each job.
They were trained on the job. (They didn’t practice cutting the concrete in the parking lot to get ready*smile*)
Because the job was repetitive, it was a perfect fit for many of the workers. They knew exactly what they were supposed to do, and after a short time, were independent in many parts of the job.
If any of the workers needed adaptations (shorter hours, more breaks, special gloves or boots…) these were included in their ISPs (Individual Service Plans). Therapists (Occupational Therapist, Speech/Language and Physical Therapist) were available for the initial evaluations/training, if necessary.
The supervisor would start the day with some conversation, some joking around and individual attention to each of the crew members. They would get a short break mid-morning, they brought their own bag lunch, and a mid-afternoon break. But most of the day, it was sweaty and hot and lots of hard work—serious business.
The supervisor made sure the crew members had sun-screen, hats, appropriate clothing, solid shoes (no sandals), water….
She also worked side-by-side with the workers. She made decisions to go to another section if a funeral was in progress, if the area was underwater…; she pulled weeds… and did whatever it took to make sure everyone was successful, and the finished job met the requirements of the cemetery board.
Aaron, my son with the label of autism, does not have the skills to run a lawnmower or weed-wacker. He would not be able to be part of the mobile work crew of 6 workers who are mostly independent on the job once they are trained. Because Aaron was in the official “transition” from school to work, he was eligible for a job coach from Rehabilitation Services.
So, because he had the physical support of a job coach, Aaron had the opportunity to join the workforce.
Is there some job he could do at the cemetery? Could he partially participate in this work?
After doing an ecological assessment of the job, Kim (Aaron’s job coach) decided Aaron could pick up the sticks before the lawn mowers came. So Aaron and she would drive a golf-cart to the area where the crew was mowing, and then they would collect sticks, dead flowers, and other stuff left on the graves, put them in a trash container tied to the back of the golf-cart and then take it to the dumpsters.
Aaron loved this job. First of all, he loved Kim, the job coach. She made him feel important, she helped him when he had trouble bending over, she helped him put the sticks in the trash container, she helped him wheel the container to the dumpster. Kim, looked at every piece of the job and asked herself, “How could Aaron at least partially participate in this job?”
Plus, Aaron loved riding in the golf-cart. When Aaron did particularly well, Kim would give him an extra long ride around the large monuments.
The side benefits were Aaron made a small amount of spending money, he paid into social security, he was out in the sunshine (with lots of sunscreen) and glowed with health, he was physically strong from all the exercise, plus the emotional benefits: he knew he was contributing, he was part of a group of people who valued his work, he could make all the noises he wanted (and wouldn’t wake up the dead), he enjoyed riding in the golf cart, instead of physical therapy practicing his balance climbing steps to nowhere—he had a functional way of practicing his balance in the real world. He had a great friend and mentor in Kim. It was a terrific experience.
And, for Memorial Day, 4th of July, Veterans Day… Who was the person who put the flags on the tombstones?
It was Aaron.
Trivia too good to pass up: One of the cemetery monuments is enclosed and heated. Yes, the person who died years ago was so afraid of being “cold”–they stipulated in their will that the space above the grave would be heated (including a back-up generator in case the electricity failed.) That is a powerful “fear.”
Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward
All my best,
Have you ever seen a mobile work crew of workers and wondered how it worked? Is partial participation better than no participation? Should people with disabilities be allowed to work?
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Dedicated to Marine Sgt. John P. Huling of West Chester, OH who was killed in Afganistan just days before his 26th birthday. His mother, Debbie, works with my husband Tom. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetary Memorial Day Weekend, 2012.
Ever wonder who puts all those flags on the graves of veterans?
MEMORIAL DAY Parades
Memorial Day is a celebration across communities in America which helps us remember our basic values and the soldiers who fought and died for them. Usually, it also includes a parade, one of my favorite parts of the holiday.
Several years ago my family sat in lawn chairs in our local cemetary watching the parade of Little League teams, high school marching bands, veterans in uniforms of many wars, and politicians in their red, white and blue ties.
The cemetery was beautiful. The lawns were like carpet. American flags marked each tombstone. The flowers colored the grounds with reds and whites. Everyone was feeling damn patriotic.
Everyone except my uncle John. He turned to me and said, “I wasn’t always handicapped.”
I raised my eyebrows and wondered where this came from. Uncle John was never a happy person, but since he had a stroke, he’d become a weary soul. We’d hoped this celebration would lift his spirits.
After all, who doesn’t like a parade?
Uncle John explained. “You know, I was an electrician. I was important, I contributed, I worked in a great hotel for 30 years. Now I just sit here and watch life go by. I’m handicapped and useless.”
Not exactly cheerful parade conversation.
I couldn’t resist. “Uncle John, having a handicap isn’t the end of the world. Can you enjoy the parade? Look at those little kids jumping up and down on their decorated wagons.”
“You just don’t understand,” he said. “I’m not like him.”
And he pointed to my son Aaron, his nephew who has the label of autism.
Some Battles Can’t be Won
I felt I needed to say something, but I couldn’t find any words. So in silence, Uncle John, me and Aaron sat side-by-side, almost touching, yet thousands of miles away from each other.
What Attitudes and Freedoms do we Celebrate?
Some of the veterans in the parade were old with worn faces and bodies. Did our society value them?
Some soldiers were younger than Aaron… and their youth was shattered in the deserts and mountains of strange lands.
Some veterans carried labels of “handicapped and disability.”
And as the crowd cheered and waved, I wondered if these brave men and women would ever be truly accepted into our society.
Would others like uncle John say they were “useless”? Would they only see the handicap?
Would they consider these wounded warriors better than people born disabled, because the soldiers were once whole and then “damaged” fighting for our country?
During the ceremony, a soldier in a wheelchair got some sort of award, and the crowd clapped. I wondered if the community would further support him as he integrated back into society, or was his token wall plaque on Memorial Day the end?
Would people segregate, discriminate and ignore him the rest of the year?
Would he get the support he needed to live, work and become part of the community?
Disabled and Yet-to-be Disabled
I often wonder if everyone understand there are only two groups of people in this world–the disabled, and the yet-to-be-disabled? If we live long enough, each of us will have a disability.
It’s something to think about.
I asked uncle John if he noticed how the cemetery grounds looked. I told him Aaron worked at this cemetery. He and the landscaping crew had disabilities.
And with support, they weren’t handicapped and “useless.”
In fact, they were the ones who made the grounds look so beautiful.
Uncle John died a couple of months later–old, bitter and handicapped. He never understood that people with disabilities could do all sorts of things.
He saw only what they couldn’t do. He focused only of what he couldn’t do.
And he’d missed the joy, pride and purpose of the Memorial Day celebration – just like he missed the joy of Aaron and the joys in his own life.
This Memorial Day, I think Aaron and I will wave a couple of flags in celebration of America… both of us competent, contributing members of our community.
Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward
All my best,
Comments: Come on, I know you want to share some memory of your own Memorial Day Parade, family reunion, attitudes about disabilities and “Handicapped.” You all have lots of ideas, let us know what you are thinking.