Reflections on Community Inclusion by Stephen Eyman

Recently I caught wind of the decision to change the name of the Community Access Program to Community Inclusion. As I think back on my years as a Community Access Specialist in Spokane, I can’t help but reflect on the meaning of true inclusion in our community and what true inclusivity looks like.

I remember my first day of inclusion work like it was yesterday. I was a young, idealistic, recent college graduate looking for meaningful work. My first day at the local community center felt like a big, clean breath of fresh air after months of uncertainty. Nothing I had found up until that point had quite aligned with my ideals and interests, and I felt like I had been holding my breath for quite some time. The way the job description wove together ‘access’ and ‘inclusion’ was unique and invigorating, as was the opportunity to make a tangible difference in my community. This is it – this is exactly what I have been looking for,” were the words that echoed in my head on my way home that afternoon.

The job for me was not only a professional opportunity, but also something I could relate to on a personal level. Although I had been previously unaware of the compelling idea of inclusion as a vocation, I had been in the business of inclusion for quite some time. As the sibling to a younger brother heavily-affected in life by a disability label, I was able to look at inclusion as more than just an intangible concept to strive towards professionally.

To illustrate it, I could have instead pulled out a worn VHS tape and pointed the concept out to you more practically in the fabric of our childhood home. “There, that’s it. That’s the definition of inclusion,” I could have told anyone who cared to listen, as they would watch my sister and I orbiting dizzying circles around my brother in the home video footage; he lays on his back in the middle of the room, smiling, laughing, and engaged in the joyful chaos. My sister and I run far and wide, yet we always circle back. In those memories, my brother is the center of our play and our home. Inclusion was so very simple and unannounced in our youth.

As I began my new job back in those recent graduate days, I soon found that the concept of inclusion had become so much more convoluted in the context of adulthood. My sister and I were no longer spinning circles around my brother in the living room.  He had in fact recently joined us in the strange adult world of looking past education towards whatever the rest of life is supposed to be. Consequently, the vibrant young-twenty-something spaces available to us, we soon found were difficult to navigate in the world of labels and diagnoses. This experience was not at all uncommon. Many of the people I met through my job as a Community Access Specialist were in a similar situation: looking back on childhood and wondering— where exactly do I belong?

In my job, I met brilliant people all around. I met people that included me in their world with an unmatched generosity. In the most clear or subtle ways, I was invited into so many people’s spaces, perspectives, and unique forms of communication. I had the privilege of working with colleagues who were enthusiastic about the basic right people should have to access community spaces. These were the kind of people who would strap themselves to a rocket if it meant making the moon accessible. It was a natural fit for me, and I am filled with gratitude for that experience.

Working together in the Community Inclusion Program (CA at the time), we had some clear and resounding successes. I remember the way an older man connected with the people at the farmer’s market where he volunteered—the way he came to life when contributing to a common goal. I remember when a younger man connected to his college-aged peers through dance; I also remember his boundless excitement the moment he was immersed in water after years that swimming had been unavailable to him. These successes filled me with the desire to get out there and make things happen every morning.

However, I now feel community inclusion can be so much more dynamic and effective than I ever originally dreamed. In fact, If I had the opportunity now to go back and give advice to that younger version of myself, I would challenge and encourage that young person to go even further—to seek out that deeper meaning of inclusion I knew with my siblings in my childhood home.

For me, the limitations I experienced began with never truly understanding the capacity of my position and the extent of its inclusive mission. I saw boundaries where I no longer see them. What I missed in those years was a deeper invitation to be something bold and unique and entirely beyond my concept of what a social services system could provide. At that time, I knew only the world of respite and direct support; yet, the skills I wish I had employed are more akin to those of an active agent of change, a networker, and a community organizer extraordinaire.

To believe fully and profoundly in inclusion and to embody it professionally, one must have the courage to be creative and dynamic. Working in community inclusion means getting outside of what is comfortable, outside of the important services that we already know and understand. It means we must find a way to cleverly interweave all the elements of life and service towards inclusion. It requires us to stand up, to listen deeply, and to ask for profound teamwork from others. It teaches us to research, to find community resources, and to have the humility to ask for assistance when we confront something outside of our expertise.

I found great meaning and accomplishment in my CI experience because I repeatedly asked myself an important question: what can I do to bring inclusion, meaning, and richness to the hours inside my influence as a service provider? Yet, I think there is a deeper question.  Community inclusion should entail exploration and profound creativity. It means making the connections, seeking out support and collaboration, and advocating for a life that goes beyond the boundaries of a billing cycle. The question I want to ask is this: what can you do to ensure those in your community experience inclusion, meaning, and richness during every hour of life? What would it take for true inclusion to become typical, and how can you actively promote that?


Clark County Businesses and Citizens Honored for their Commitment to Employment and Services for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities!

On October 17, 2017 the Clark County Developmental Disabilities Advisory Board, the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, New Seasons Market, and Umpqua Bank hosted the 17th annual awards ceremony to honor Clark County’s employees with developmental disabilities, their employers, employment agencies, and citizens who provide outstanding service.

The event took place at The Heathman Lodge in recognition of National Disability Employment Awareness Month with the theme: Inclusion Drives Innovation. Kelly Love of Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center was the emcee. Throughout the program, several videos were shown to introduce award categories. These videos featured a combination of 2016 Award winners and others making an impact in Clark County supported employment (click links to view):

The 2017 Award presenters were: Clark County Councilor Julie Olson, Clark County Developmental Disabilities Advisory Board Member Le Ann Larson, and the chair of the Clark County Developmental Disabilities Advisory Board Ted Engelbrecht. The event, attended by over 250 people, was broadcast live on CVTV.  See the recording here:

2017 Award Winners

The 2017 Large Employer of the Year is Pacific Crest Custom Cabinetry, which has worked creatively to restructure tasks to leverage the skills of their employees and work with them to ensure they work the maximum number of hours they desire. They work hard to create an atmosphere that brings coworkers together as a team, making each employee know that he or she is an integral part of the work family. 

The 2017 Small Employer of the Year is Marshall’s. They are known for their ability to see hiring as an opportunity to include people of all backgrounds and perspectives. They provide excellent natural supports and have gone above and beyond with supporting everyone to be successful. The management team understands that a cohesive and effective team is created when each employee is recognized for their contribution and opportunities for growth and career advancement is afforded to everyone.

The 2017 Employee of the Year was presented to two different stand-out nominees:

Austin Ewald, courtesy clerk at Mill Plain/Andresen Safeway. He is known for never being too busy to help a customer or coworker. If things are slow in the front, he will help his coworkers with stocking or changing out displays. His keen eye for detail is appreciated by all and he never misses an item out of place when doing his hourly safety sweeps of the store. His positive attitude and dedication to his work is apparent to all. If you stop by the Andresen Safeway on a 100-degree day in August or a snowy day in December, you will see him outside gathering carts with the same speed and determination.

Christopher Gaston: He was nominated by his employer, saying that he has continued to be a dedicated and valued employee through the 21 years he has worked at S.E.H. America. He is highly regarded by his fellow co-workers and is noted for his good humor and gregarious nature. Throughout his history at S.E.H., he has been recognized as “Employee of the Month” several times. Most recently, he was selected for typifying “S.E.H. Guiding Principle #6: Keeping work enjoyable, positive, and engaging activity while respecting others. By his long tenure and performance, he exemplifies how capabilities far exceed barriers, and his presence in the workplace is an asset.

The 2017 David Hanawalt Service Award was presented to Carolyn Newton of Goldman and Associates. She is described as a person who is “any manager’s go-to person.” Not only does she enjoy her job, but her success in supporting people in job retention, increasing duties, and working more hours, shows her true commitment to her work. The quality of her work has led to referrals from other employers, and she has supported every single one of her customers to retain their job since hired at Goldman and Associates 5 years ago—not a single job was lost on her watch.

The 2017 Dennis Campbell Outstanding Service Award was presented to Harold Rains, Finance Manager for the Department of Community Services. He is described as a man full of not only ideas, but action. He has spearheaded building-wide diversity trainings that are quite innovative in Clark County. He has also taken his positive experience with supported employment on the road, participating in various events and conferences. He has sat on panels of employers, sharing his experience and encouraging other businesses to give supported employment a try. He firmly understands the importance of a county that will hire staff that echo the diversity of the community they support. He is someone who believes wholeheartedly in power of people—all people, to contribute and be valued.

Employers affiliated with all 2017 nominees are: Ilani Resort, Walmart, Home Depot (Jantzen Beach), Clark County Treasurer & I.T. Department, Heathman Lodge (Hudson’s Bar & Grill), Wendy’s, Dog Gone Clean, MadDog’s Gourmet Hotdogs, MOD Pizza (Hazel Dell), Vancouver Elite Gymnastics Academy, and Jack in the Box.

Congratulations to all!

For more information about Clark County’s employment services for individuals with developmental disabilities, please contact:
Mary Strehlow,
(360) 397-2075 ext. 7825, [email protected]

October National Disability Employment Awareness Month

By Dan Rutten

National Disability Employment Awareness Month is now in its 29th year and it’s amazing to think about the progress we have made in the last three decades since its inception. From the shifting emphasis on the value of community-based employment over segregated labor, to the increased acknowledgement of the idea that anyone can work if we focus on what a person can do rather than their perceived limitations, and more recently, the large employer initiatives focusing on hiring individuals with disabilities within corporate and governmental entities, we are moving closer to the conclusion that disability does not in fact, mean inability.

That said, there is still a lot of work to be done. High rates of unemployment and under employment for individuals with disabilities is very apparent. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, people with disabilities still experience an unemployment rate that is double of that of the population of people who do not identify as having a disability. And many of those who are employed are seeking more hours and higher pay than they currently are currently receiving.

The good news is this though, as a field of professionals we continue to get better at our jobs and how we provide quality services to individuals. We are finding great successes when partnering with DVR and schools to start providing employment services earlier, knowing that statistics show that if students with a disability leaves school/transition programs with a job, they have a higher likelihood of maintaining employment as adults. We are utilizing technology to give people a louder voice and the opportunity to engage in activities that may not have been possible without it. We are removing our own barriers of silo-ing ourselves by creating more cross-agency collaborations, realizing that we as individuals and entities don’t always have all the answers. And most importantly, we are doing a better job at listening to those we are partnering with to advance their careers, ensuring that we help to create opportunities that match a person’s skills and interests, leading to increased longevity and success.

As National Disability Employment Awareness Month rolls along there will be many opportunities to celebrate, network, and learn from others in our community.

Partners for Work 2017 by Debbie Moore

Our Seattle summer is behind us and fall is here. With this transition, new opportunities within our Partners for Work (PFW) Project are underway. The groundwork has been taking shape over the summer getting Rotary Clubs prepared for their new Greeters. First time clubs have been designing their job descriptions, school districts are identifying potential students and meetings with families and their support agencies are being held.

Rotary Club Greeters are yearlong “working interviews” which provide transition students the opportunity to improve work skills, expand their work experience and earn a paycheck while networking with business people on a weekly basis. This is often their first paid position. Twenty-Two Rotary Clubs have adopted this project within their clubs.

King County employment agencies are connected with students and the weekly club meetings provide a platform for the employment agency to build a relationship with the S2W student while also making connections with Rotarians. Students leave this experience with an enhanced resume and close to 100% also exit with employment. Equally important is the enhanced awareness about PFW and the value of hiring individuals with varied abilities.

Enjoy our video;

Partners for Work Greeters, get on board!

Good Transition is More Than Just Magic…

According to IDEA Section 300.29:

(a) Transition service means a coordinated set of activities for a student with a disability that (1) Is designed within an outcome-oriented process, that promotes movement from school to post-school activities, including post-secondary education, vocational training, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, or community participation; (2) Is based on the individual student’s needs, taking into account the student’s preferences and interests; and (3) Includes (i) Instruction; (ii) Related services; (iii) Community experiences; and (iv) The development of employment and other post-school adult living objectives.” IDEA 2004

Currently, most Oregon students with intellectual disabilities still continue to leave school without paid employment. Students who experience more significant disability labels also experience less community work experience exposure and limited placement. This in turn limits their options as potential workers once they leave school.

If we see IDEA as a framework to achieve successful transition outcomes, we need to think about providing services in community settings and designing community work experiences that are based on individual interests and preferences for every student instead of groups being taken all together to one community site. This means each and every student regardless of disability should have access to their “own” individual placement and work experience. The use of WIOA pre-employment funds for discovery or facilitated person centered employment could be used to determine best fit and interest. This could direct individual work experiences and begin to define supports needed for future jobs. The more significant the disability the earlier the student should begin this process as part of a school program rather than be excluded and limited to on campus experiences only.

Linkages to adult services and actual job search should also commence prior to leaving school with the idea that the paid job be located sooner rather than after leaving school. Ideally, schools and local providers would collaborate on the search using braided resources (WIOA, OVRS, ODE funding, etc.). If a school district is already utilizing state YTP funds, these programs should expand to include ALL students with intellectual disabilities rather than just serving some, as is currently the practice in many school districts.  Internships and training outside the school setting, located within existing businesses such as Project SEARCH could be facilitated within every community.

A stronger partnership that promotes supported employment needs to be in place for Oregon Department of Education, ODDS and OVRS, so we can realize the promise of successful transition under IDEA. The expectation that ALL students can and should work in paid community jobs across our state needs to be endorsed more openly by all three entities, and collaboration that leads to action. We can succeed in having ALL school Leavers with intellectual Disabilities leave school already in paid jobs! For perspectives from other national experts on transition from school to work, see articles by: 1) Grossi and Thomas, and 2) Munundar and Carlson.

– Debra McLean

Oregon APSE

Assistive Technology – Where to Start? By Ryan Farrow, WISE

We live in a world of unlimited choices. With the massive amount of assistive technology (AT) options, it is difficult to know where to start to discover what type of AT is right for you or someone you support.  Throughout the process of putting AT in place, there are several places we can get stuck. This short post is meant to provide some places to start. Today, I want to highlight a few resources that you can utilize to help you purchase the right equipment for yourself or someone you support by trying out the equipment ahead of time. To make an informed choice on what AT is right for you, explore some of the following options:

  1. Explore your state’s Assistive Technology Act Program: Click here to find your state’s program. In Washington for instance, the Washington Assistive Technology Act Program (WATAP) has a device lending library, which allows people to rent equipment (for a small fee) to try before you buy. Most pieces of equipment can be rented for up to 5 weeks. I have rented analog and Bluetooth switches, iPad’s with pre-loaded apps, and iPad mounting systems for wheel chair attachments.
  2. Funding Opportunities:
    1. Talk to you case manager about Medicaid-related funding, including the Community First Choice Option.
    2. Explore NW Access Fund to start an Individual Development account to receive matching funds toward a device. They also offer low-interest loans for larger purchases.
    3. Connect with your local Vocational Rehabilitation office. While seeking employment, Vocational Rehabilitation counselors can request AT assessments and purchase equipment to for workplace accommodations.
    4. Stay connected with Autism Speaks to apply for iPad grants
    5. For Communication-specific AT needs, Speech-Language Pathologists can make recommendations on Speech-Generating Devices, which can then be prescribed by your doctor as a medical necessity.
    6. Physical and Occupational therapists can also recommend mobility devices and tools for activities for daily living.

Technology opens doors and can help people to unlock their true potential. Whether you have a need identified or you just want to explore cool AT, the above resources provide a great starting point. Check them out!

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