Balancing Incentive Program:
Building Futures for Young People with Development Disabilities
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Nothing will work unless you do. - Maya Angelou

How many of you remember your first job search? The interview? Your first day of work? Were you nervous? Excited? Both? Did you think you knew something about the job, or were you scared that you knew nothing at all? Were you worried about your coworkers? Did you fantasize about that first paycheck?
Whether or not we held on to our first job, it was one of the rites of passage that ushered us into adulthood. We were finally “grown up,” maybe even on our own. And, that first paycheck also gave us a way to dream and plan for the future! 

Some teens have the kinds of support that enable them to actualize their dreams. They have financial assistance, mentors, academic advisors, friends, and family who support their choices and encourage their efforts in building a future. For economically disadvantaged teens, however, their dreams may seem like nothing more than castles in the air.

Imagine, then, the impact that poverty has on a young person with a developmental disability. The transition to adulthood and independence presents even greater challenges: not only does that young person encounter the barriers put in place by poverty, but he must deal with persistent social and economic exclusion based on misperceptions about his abilities, the stereotypes and stigmas associated with disabilities, and the lack of services to assist with the transition to adult independence.

The Community Place of Greater Rochester (CPGR) recognizes the distinct challenges that underserved young people with developmental disabilities face in transitioning from school to meaningful employment and independence. CPGR’s response to these challenges is the Balancing Incentive Program (BIP). Started with a two-year federal grant in September 2015, this program aims to establish a permanent means of helping young people who have developmental disabilities find sustainable employment. To be eligible for the program, participants need to be between the ages of 16 and 30 and receiving, or be eligible for, Medicaid.  

The Balancing Incentive Program is administered by two dedicated staff, Program Manager, Deborah Campbell, who was tasked from the beginning with writing the program’s procedures and guidelines, and Outreach Worker, Marita Smith. In order to accomplish the ultimate goal of BIP--making employment and job searching a normal activity for young people with disabilities--Campbell and Smith often wear multiple hats in a single day. They are tasked with identifying participants, meeting with families, networking with prospective employers, interfacing with other agencies, and setting up the proper training and support programs for each individual.   

Networking, according to Campbell, is an integral part of the program’s chances for success. This begins with the families of perspective participants. “Families want employment opportunities for their young people with disabilities…they want full or part-time jobs for [them] … which will lead to a better quality of life,” says Campbell. “But there is much to be done to get families to buy in to the program.” The big stumbling block? The fear that if their young person works, this will affect their benefits. So one of the first things Campbell and Smith must do is to convince parents and caregivers that a participant can work and still keep their benefits.

On the other side of the employment equation, there are significant hurdles to overcome with businesses and prospective employers. First and foremost are employers’ misperceptions and fears of having an employee with a development disability. They worry that people with disabilities may not have the right skills, job experience, or abilities to do the work. Or that a person with disabilities may not be reliable or can’t get to work on time. Or, it might be that employers are not willing to put in time and effort on their end for training that would be necessary to employ a person with disabilities.

In order to turn obstacles into opportunities, the Balancing Incentive Program established a Business Advisory/Support Group. This group seeks to partner with employers, particularly in the northeast quadrant of Rochester, to raise their awareness about the value of hiring young people who have disabilities. Getting a commitment from a business is a twofold task: the BIP staff must work with prospective employers to determine what skills and experiences are necessary for an employee to succeed in a particular job. The staff then uses this information to work with their clients in matching the job to the job seeker. The goal here, says Campbell, is “to get the right placement for the right person.” Secondly, employers need to be reassured that the individual they hire will receive ongoing job coaching and support, as necessary, in bringing value to the business.
Families want employment opportunities for their young people with disabilities…they want full or part-time jobs for [them] … which will lead to a better quality of life. - Deborah Campbell
At present, the Balancing Incentive Program has 22 clients. During their workshops at the Community Place, they learn all aspects of the job search, as Campbell puts it, how to “look for a job, get the job and then keep the job once obtained.” Just like job seekers who are “nondisabled,” the BIP clients create resumes, use job lists and the Internet to find work that looks interesting to them, practice interviewing skills, and work on specific skills that are necessary for the job they want. An added benefit of the workshops is getting the participants together to share each other’s experiences of looking for a job or actually working at one. The workshops help them build camaraderie, motivate each other and provide one another with the much needed moral support of job seeking.

Notably, the clients do their own networking as well. They can get good feedback from others going through the same experiences and find out about jobs that other clients have come across. Guest speakers share information about what working at a particular job is like, and the Program invites businesses and hiring managers to the workshops to talk about the skills that they are looking for in an employee.

As with anyone searching for a job, it can feel like a full time job in and of itself and can be discouraging, but the BIP staff is there to keep them feeling positive. Campbell says they bring out their Magic “I Can Do It” ball to help boost confidence. However, she notes, they don’t let participants fall back on excuses. They are expected to be responsible for their choices and searches.  BIP does try to involve the client’s caregivers, family members and/or service coordinators as well, as a way of enlarging the support group of the job seeker.

An important component of these sessions is teaching “soft skills,” or interpersonal skills, and financial literacy. Campbell stresses that clients need the kind of knowledge beyond just how to do a job such as, What does getting to work on time mean? What does going to work every day look like? How does one resolve conflict on the job? How does one establish boundaries? What does one do with her paycheck? How does a worker save money?

Getting to and from work can also present a challenge for an employee with a disability.  Campbell states that learning how to use bus transportation is integral part of the training. Rochester’s Regional Transit Service gives an invaluable presentation on how to ride the bus, where to get on and off, etc. Each participant is given a 5-day pass to get them started. If an individual still needs help with getting from their home to the transit center, Marita Smith will work with that client individually so that he or she can ride the bus confidently.
In realizing the goals of the Balancing Incentive Program, Campbell and Smith know that “it takes a village.” The success of this start-up depends upon interagency cooperation to help with assessment and training for young job seekers. Campbell notes that the Rochester Rehabilitation Center has been invaluable in providing work-based assessments for job readiness and vocabulary assessment. BIP has just sent their second group of four young people with development disabilities for Rochester Rehabilitation’s three-day program. After the assessment, the four participants are given an opportunity to work in real life jobs, such as in a box assembly company, a shredding business, or maintenance work, after which they are evaluated on their performance.  This feedback is instrumental to the staff of BIP in tailoring the kinds of job support and training to each participant. 

BIP also works closely with the Employment Training Program (ETP) of the New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD). The Employment Training Program provides a comprehensive process to assist persons with disabilities in learning about the world of work, gaining real work experience, acquiring work skills, building relationships at work and maintaining employment. Moreover, OPWDD will be instrumental in sustaining the objectives of the BIP at the end of the grant period in September 2017.

For the long term, Campbell would “like to see employment and job searching a normal activity when school is finished” for young people with developmental disabilities. She would like to start earlier with this population, getting them at 13 or so to start thinking about what they might like to do one day and what kinds of skills can they begin to develop. Teens with disabilities need to be encouraged to imagine themselves in a job that adds meaning to their lives, that enables them to work towards independence, and that allows them to make decisions about what is important to them.

Assisting these young people in navigating the path to sustainable employment is what keeps Campbell and Smith putting on those different hats every day. Their work is energized by the belief that, for those with disabilities, as for everyone, there is hope and opportunity through employment stabilization.
To find out more about the Balancing Incentive Program and other important employment initiatives for people with developmental disabilities, you can call Deborah Campbell or Marita Smith at 585-336-4697.

If you would like to make a donation to the programs at the Community Place of Greater Rochester, you can do so by going to their Web page at Your support will further CPGR’s mission of “Strengthening communities. One person. One family at a time.”
Copyright © 2016 The Community Place of Greater Rochester, All rights reserved.

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