Employment opportunities limited for those with I/DD

A worker at High Sierra Industries puts together an exit roller for a lottery machine.

A worker at High Sierra Industries puts together an exit roller for a lottery machine.

Every week, there’s an employee at Rounds Bakery cleaning tables, folding donut boxes, watering plants and greeting customers. This employee has a cognitive disability, but that’s never stopped her from contributing to the business. She works at the restaurant four days a week and four hours a day earning above minimum wage with tips to boot. Unfortunately, she’s one of the few with this opportunity.

For people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), finding a job can be one of the hardest tasks.

In 2015, an estimated 66.2 percent of people with cognitive disabilities age 21 to 64 were unemployed compared to 24.1 percent of individuals without disabilities according to the 2015 Nevada Disability Status Report by Cornell University.

I/DD refers to limited mental, cognitive or adaptive capabilities. People with I/DD have the most stagnation in the unemployment rate. In Nevada, the unemployment rate for people with cognitive disabilities has gone down, but only by about 1.1 percent since 2008.

NNBW did a story on the efforts to address the issue in 2007. Within the past 10 years, the sentiment among leaders in the effort is that little has changed.

“It has not improved greatly,” Mary Bryant, project director of Path to Independence at the Nevada Center for Excellence in Disabilities (NCED), lamented in a phone interview with NNBW.

The Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation (BVR) at the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR), a state and federally funded program, has been trying to match individuals with I/DD with the right jobs for years.

“We are always available and willing to come to an employer and talk about disability awareness, no cost,” Janice John, deputy administrator at DETR, said in a phone interview with NNBW.

BVR also offers work opportunity credit for employers that hire individuals with disabilities.

Anton Novak, co-owner of Rounds Bakery, was open to the idea, but admitted the initial training process was slower than it was for most of his employees.

“You might have to teach someone with no learning disability one or two times,” Novak explained. “We had to teach her several times.”

BVR has supports and programs in place to help mitigate the risk for employers, which paid for the first few weeks of the employee’s time with Rounds.

“That allowed us to cover our training costs for someone who would take longer to train,” Novak said.

Now with over a year at Rounds, the employee has become one of the company’s most valued team members.

“My differently-abled folks are the ones I can always count on to be here. Any risk that you think you might have is probably going to be offset by this loyalty,” he said.

According to John, that loyalty is very common.

“Oftentimes our clientele, when they get a job, they are so appreciative. They are there for life,” John pointed out.

Nevertheless, finding employers willing to take in individuals with I/DD has been an issue.

“We need more employers that are willing to say ‘yes’ and be willing to take that opportunity, that chance,” John stressed.


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