State grant will help disabled retain employment

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The Pikes Peak Workforce Center is expanding its duties, thanks to a grant from the Colorado Developmental Disabilities Planning Council.
The Supported Employment and Transition grant will allow PPWC to hire two full-time employees and one part-time employee who will be responsible for assisting severely disabled people to seek and retain employment by providing career counseling. These “community navigators” will also consult with employers as to how to support disabled employees and reduce turnover.
PPWC was granted $80,000 for its first year beginning March 15 and will be reevaluated for additional funding annually for the next three years. The evaluation will be based on criteria including data collection, analysis of wages and benefits, securing employment for at least eight of the 12 first-year participants, and the number of participating employers.
Disabled people have typically worked in fast-food restaurants and as janitors in the past, said PPWC development specialist Patty Cassidy. However, turnover is usually high in these types of environments and support is lost when management trained in working with the disabled leaves the company. Cassidy would like to see applicants working more in white-collar positions, such as at insurance companies or government jobs, where managerial support is more likely to remain constant. The PPWC program is scheduled to work with at least 12 applicants with severe disabilities such as mental retardation, cerebral palsy and autism.
Public schools are legally required to assist developmentally disabled students under the age of 21 in training for and retaining jobs. However, state funding for these programs is limited and the waiting list is long, said Cassidy. And because some disabled students don’t graduate at the age of 21, they need continuing assistance.
“The PPWC services not only job seekers, but we also provide services to the employers in our community,” said Cassidy. “We want to help employers add to the diversity of their work force and people with disabilities are a part of that diversity.”