By M.L. Dehm The Herald Business Journal
LAKE STEVENS — The Snohomish County Transition Resource Fair returns to Cascade High School in Everett on March 26. For the past 16 years, the event has been putting local residents with disabilities in touch with employers, services and programs aimed to increase their independence.
The event is especially important to young adults eager to gain job experience and find employment. That isn’t always an easy task for someone with a disability.
In January, the U.S. Department of Labor placed the national unemployment rate for people with disabilities at 13.7 percent, considerably higher than the 8.3 percent for those without disabilities.
Melinda Bocci of the Snohomish County Human Services Division of Developmental Disabilities noted that the number of people attending the transition fair has been steadily increasing. About 250 people attended the fair last year.
One of those was Brock McCulloch, now 22. He is developmentally delayed and has suffered from a number of health issues. Nevertheless, he, like many of his peers, simply wanted an opportunity for employment and greater independence. The fair provided the information that he and his family needed to help him take those steps.
“The training and information was essential to Brock obtaining employment,” said Deanna McCulloch, Brock’s mother. “We would not have had the knowledge or education to move forward without it.”
Part of that information was about job creation. Most people with disabilities have the daunting task of convincing employers to carve out a job for them when the standard openings don’t fit.
There are also agencies, such as the nonprofit Sherwood Community Services, that offer free consultations for businesses to identify where an employee with a disability might prove to be a benefit for the company. Sherwood provides all of the training for the employee at no cost to the employer.
“And we provide one-to-one supervision as needed at no cost to the employer,” said Sherwood’s Andrew Urie.
Urie, who has worked in job coaching and job development, knows some of the concerns that employers have about hiring people with disabilities. One is employee reliability. Yet even with the health problems faced by some with disabilities, they often prove to be the most reliable workers because they value their hard-won job.
Brock McCulloch was eventually hired by the company where his father worked, North Coast Electric. A job coach got him settled in and offered initial advice and supervision as needed. It wasn’t long before Brock was up to speed, performing his job well and pleasing his employer. His mother believes she knows why he’s so successful.
“Oftentimes people with disabilities have endured so much in becoming adults, they have had to fight through health issues, acceptance, confidence and independence, which gives them an incredible work ethic,” Deanna McCulloch said. “Brock is very serious about his work and takes great pride in doing a good job while always looking for ways to improve and help more.”
Many people with disabilities are willing to take those part-time jobs, sometimes just a few hours a week, that would be rejected by other job seekers.
Sherwood’s consultants identify basic tasks, currently assigned to more experienced, higher-paid workers that could easily be taken over by an entry-level disabled worker. That can free up able-bodied workers for tasks better suited to their qualifications and pay scale while offering job experience to a young person struggling to get skills. Essentially, the company saves money while offering support to someone in the community who needs it.
“Including a disabled person in the workplace can offer a chance for their co-workers to become more open minded, kind, patient, tolerant and give them a sense of doing good for others in their prospective community,” Deanna McCulloch said.
The Transitional Resource Fair offers more than just job information. Students attend the fair to get connected to community resources as well as those resources that will help them with their employment path.
More than 50 resource tables from state and local government, employment agencies, housing, transportation, health care, legal and recreation agencies are featured along with nine workshops aimed at young adults with disabilities.
“The fair helped Brock with his future planning,” Deanna McCulloch said. “As parents, the future is very tough to imagine. It is natural to be protective and assume they will never be without you when, in fact, this is not accurate. They must move into their own lives and that can be daunting.”
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More information about the Snohomish County Transition Resource Fair is available online at www1.co.snohomish.wa.us/Departments/Human_Services/Divisions/DevDisabilities. Businesses that want a consultation about hiring a disabled worker can call Sherwood Community Service at 425-334-4071 or go to www.sherwoodcs.org.