In celebration of Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, we would like to introduce you to Debbie, a member of our Job Services team with 30 years of experience in the developmental disability services field. Debbie is the VGS Placement Consultant for Lake, Geauga, and Ashtabula counties where she coordinates an Employment Advisory Board Committee for companies interested in hiring people with developmental disabilities. Current committee members include five community employers, the Chardon Chamber of Commerce, and Travel Centers of America.
Tell us a bit about your journey.
I figure I was destined to help people. In the early 1990s, I worked at a 300-bed nursing home. It was a great experience, but I was always getting in trouble for taking breaks with the residents.
I have since held positions in job development, independent living, and as an Activities Director for a group home. Along the way, I learned American Sign Language. I joined the VGS team in 2004 because we share the philosophy that everyone should be treated the same.
How has COVID-19 impacted your work?
Working virtually has pros and cons. Virtual services make it possible to safely continue our work but I think we all miss being together in person. In-person interactions feel a lot more meaningful now.
There is also a lot more competition for jobs. During the early months of the pandemic, people still really wanted to find employment, but the world was on hold. We are seeing things shift but I wish there were more part-time opportunities available and better public transportation, especially in rural communities.
What is most rewarding about your work?
Knowing I am making a difference and helping people reach their goals; I am honored to help. There is so much we can achieve with teamwork and collaboration.
A story I will always remember is working with someone who was told by their school principal that they would never be successful. The school was insistent that this young man could not work and yet he landed a job at a restaurant. He was so proud! I also recently worked with a woman recovering from a stroke and she just started a job last Monday. She signs off her emails as “newly employed.”
What is one thing you wish the community knew about developmental disability services?
Certain disabilities still have very strong stigmas attached to them. There are some employers that might be willing to give high school students a chance but hesitate to hire adults with disabilities. Disclosing a disability is a personal choice; sometimes it is an opportunity to educate and other times it might result in biases.
It is my job to help people not internalize these stigmas and encourage employers to see beyond disabilities. Every time we collaborate with an employer and work together, we are building a community of support.