Employment First Conference, Day 1

Anyone that has to ever met me anywhere knows this to be true: Doug always shows up early. Therefore, when I read the registration for the conference was at 8am I made sure to arrive by 7:45.  Once I  walked into the Embassy Suites (where the conference was taking place) I asked myself this important question:  Doug what in the heck  were you thinking arriving so early? Very few people had arrived at that point.  However, all was not lost as I found they were serving Starbucks coffee and quickly grabbed myself a cup. Since coffee is one of my favorite things in this world and free coffee is even better, this was a great way to start the conference!

Next, I walked past the vendor tables at the conference and into the ballroom where the the days keynote address would take place at 9am.  I drank my wonderful coffee then about 5 minutes later a women asked if she could sit at my table.  She sat down and we struck up a conversation. I quickly learned she was from my old stomping grounds, CINCINNATI.  It turned out she was a transition coordinator for Butler County, one of the local counties in that area. I then quickly decided to put her in contact with a principal at a Cincinnati high school program that works with students on the Autism Spectrum.  Not only are conferences important for us “professionals” to continue to be educated, but its a great way for us to network in an effort to help individuals and their families.

We probably blabbed for about a half hour about how we can improve Butler County, then it was time for the conference to start.  We started off from a keynote from Dale Dileo. He has provided training in the United States, Canada, Australia, and Europe to 150,000 people over the last 30 years on the subject of community inclusion for people with disabilities (another words dude has a lot of experience). He was there to talk about how Employment First should be the goal of everyone in the state of Ohio.  The initiative of Employment First is to have individuals with disabilities involved in community employment.  Dale gave a very simple message.  He believes sheltered workshops are ineffective  and that all people with disabilities should be involved in community employment.  Dale backed these claims up with some interesting facts.  He showed a study that suggests there is no evidence that those with disabilities that participate in sheltered workshops improve their employability and that they are more costly to train once they leave this workshop.  He also showed  statistics that state their are currently 117,000 people in the United States with disabilities who work in community employment and 435,000 people with disabilities who work in sheltered workshops. Those are some pretty daunting stats. I didn’t agree with everything that Dale said, but he did make many excellent points.   I don’t know if all 435,000 of those people can work in community employment, but there are certainly many that could with the correct support.  We certainly need to do a better job of getting more people with disabilities involved in community employment. However, I’m not sure we should ever have a one size fits all approach. It should be tailored to each individual.

When the keynote was over we then heard a panel that discussed the investment of state agencies in Employment First. Those on the panel included:  John Martin, Director for the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities. Kevin Miller, Director of the Ohio Rehabilitiation Services Commission. Tracy Plouck, Director for the Ohio Department of Mental Health.  Sue Zake, Director for the Office for Exceptional Children, Ohio Department of Education.  I thought all four participants represented themselves well, but some sombering realities were presented.  Sue Zake in my opinion admitted that things basically suck because OED is confined by the budget, but are  doing the best they can with the dollars that available.  Kevin Miller talked about how there is a lot of improvement needed by the  Rehabilitation Services Commission. That has been the same message I have received from individuals and their families over the last few years. The most positive thing that came out of this panel discussion for me was from Tracy Plouck. She passionately talked about Medicaid and Medicaid Buy-In which urged me to attend a breakout session on this very topic the following day.

Thoughts on the afternoon session of Day 1 of this conference will be in the next blog post. If you have any questions or comments about this or anything else regarding this blog or Autism Personal Coach please email them to autismpersonalcoach@yahoo.com.


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