Dane County and Madison agencies are seeing gradual but steady growth in employment numbers of disabled individuals following recent investment in a number of social programs.
In 2014, Dane County has spent $12.5 million people to serve 1,180 people with disabilities, Doug Hunt, developmental disabilities program specialist at Dane County’s Department of Human Services, said. Additionally, $235,000 was spent on serving 98 to 100 people with mental health problems, he said.
The county puts in $16 million county funds into adult mental health and developmental disability services overall, including employment services, Fran Genter, division administrator for Dane County Adult Community Services Division, said.
One of the initiatives the county has started involves training students with disabilities at the University of Wisconsin and Middleton Memorial Veteran hospitals to promote job training for the health field, Hunt said. This collaboration is “especially innovative” because it gives students the opportunities to practice in real hospitals, he said.
A reason the county has made such gains in the employment of individuals with disabilities is because of partnerships with UW’s Department of Special Education and Rehabilitation Psychology, Hunt said.
Genter said disabled workers will often have unique advantages in certain lines of employment.
“They often work routine tasks with a lot of repetition,” Genter said. “Employers will tell us that people with disabilities do the task better than non-disabled employees because they are not distracted, they enjoy their work. They tend to stick around longer, it’s an interesting match.”
Hunt said employers often say work morale increases with the hiring of individuals with disabilities, as they bring a positive attitude to the workplace and add vibrancy to the culture of the workplace.
The county has made commitments to promoting employment for those with disabilities, despite limited capacities and funds, Hunt said. For example, the county partnered with Madison schools.
If the school assists a disabled student with obtaining employment, the county will continue to provide support services for maintaining the employment, Hunt said.
In doing this, Hunt said the county adds 50 to 60 new people with disabilities to the workforce every year.
Sarah Cutler, executive director of Community Works Services, said her agency helps people with developmental disabilities to obtain and maintain jobs in their community after they graduate from high school. Community support services vary depending on the individual needs of the client with a disability, she said.
“Some need one-on-one support where they need a job coach on site with them while others need a lot less support where we just spot check to see how things are going although the client can pretty much do the job independently,” Cutler said. “The amount of support we provide just depends on the individual and the needs that they have.”
Cutler said clients with disabilities see numerous benefits from these services along with their coworkers, employers and communities.
The clients get a great sense of belonging, they know that they are working and they have a sense of accomplishment, Cutler said.
“The coworkers get so much from our clients, in terms of the relationships and their work atmosphere, their sense of humors,” Cutler said. “For everybody involved, it’s a great thing.”