Employment can offer joy, well-being

Wednesday, March 12, 2008 2:19 AM

Growing up in the soggy South, we often had entire seasons of weather that could only be
appreciated by a duck. In Southwest Colorado this winter, we've had weather that could best be appreciated by the
Emperor Penguin. The winter-weather sports enthusiasts probably come a close second to their Antarctic cousin in
their love of this snow.

Having never been much inclined to hurl myself at full speed down the side
of a snowy mountain (and if you've ever seen me in action, you'll know that is exactly what would happen), I have
found cross country skiing far more enticing. Thus, I am awed by the courage and success of some of our young folks
with developmental disabilities who, with the support of such organizations as Adaptive Sports Association and
Special Olympics, have tamed the beast that is Nordic skiing.

Why, then, after having tamed the mountain, is getting a job after high
school such a difficult undertaking for many of our kids? Every year, we seem to have a group of young people coming
out of the local high schools and onto the sofa. Many young people are not destined for a typical college program
because of cognitive impairments like Down syndrome, neurological conditions like autism or cerebral palsy, or
emotional or learning challenges. Instead of contributing to the community after graduation, these young people are
either moping around the house with nothing to do, or worse, roaming the streets looking for entertainment and
finding mostly trouble.

It is a problem that reminds me a lot of my cross country skiing
experiences. If you have ever been the first to forge the trail, you will know what I mean. When you are the first to
plow through the layers of powder and ice, every foot of progress is a struggle. However, once that trail is blazed, the experience is a joy.

Community employment for a person with a disability can be the same.
Forging the trail with a new employment setting can be a struggle for both employee and employer as they learn each
others' strengths and needs. Once the relationship is built, though, the path is cleared for those who would

We are fortunate in our community to have many businesses that have worked
through the trail-blazing phase to become partners in employment for people with disabilities. Yet many students
either do not know the paths that are already there or have different skills and interests from the employees who
have gone before. Without substantial support from friends, family or community services, the forging can discourage
young graduates from even making the attempt.

So, what is the answer to making these young residents part of a healthy
community? It is a question currently being pondered by a workgroup of local school personnel, community agencies for
people with disabilities and the Chamber of Commerce with the goal of finding a solution that helps businesses find
eager and skilled employees and helps individuals with disabilities find meaningful employment to support their
financial and emotional well-being. Success could be as thrilling as reaching the base of the mountain

For more information about employment for people with disabilities or tax
benefits for employers, contact Community Connections at 259-2464 or

Tara Kiene is the resource director for families, children and adults
at Community Connections.