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Believe: Success stories

People with all kinds of disabilities can — and do — work. The stories below challenge low expectations and barriers to work by focusing on possibilities.

Watch the videos and read the stories below to see how work has changed people's lives. Then, answer the questions in the discussion guide (PDF).

Ken lived in his family home until his mother passed away when Ken was in his mid-30s. He had limited experiences outside of spending time with his family and had never explored community employment. 

Ken was hesitant to talk to people at first, but he had a great sense of humor and enjoyed joking with people once he was comfortable. He also had extensive knowledge of classic rock, vintage cars and movies from the late '70s and '80s.   

The people who knew Ken well and his employment support team helped him think about places where he might work. They thought of places where he would be at his best — where he could help people and share his knowledge of music and vintage trivia. They explored trivia nights at local pubs, vintage bookstores and antique shops, and eventually connected with a local bar that offered lunch specials including trivia and music each day. They talked with the bar owner and learned he could use help with some things that would be a great fit for Ken. A position was created for Ken to work each day during the lunch rush to improve customer service and help with the trivia and music. 

Ken got his first job when he was 50 years old and he looks forward to going to work each day.  His support staff didn't think he would be able to be independent at the job, since he had support in nearly everything he did throughout his whole life — but because of the great fit of the job and the natural supportive environment, Ken now works independently. He just needs some support getting to and from work.

Ken had a goal of going on vacation one day. With his job, he was able to save enough money for a vacation and flew on a plane for the first time.

For Ken, work provided a way to find meaningful engagement with other people, to share his skills and interests, and to reach his goal of going on vacation. 

Dave was a victim of the 2008 recession. He was married, living in an upscale house in the suburbs and working as a stock broker at a brokerage firm. Then the recession hit. Within a year, Dave lost his job and his house, and his wife left him. He became severely depressed. His diabetes got worse and he developed heart failure.

When Dave needed help paying for his prescriptions, he was homeless and living in his car. Dave had Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Medical Assistance (MA), but he had a large spenddown (an amount he had to pay for his medical bills before MA would start paying) that he couldn't afford. Dave's team helped him see how, by working even a few hours a week, he could become eligible for Medical Assistance for Employed Persons with Disabilities (MA-EPD) — which would save him money and help him get back on his feet.  Still, Dave didn't see any possibilities. He didn't have any job prospects, and even if he did, he couldn't muster the energy or courage to apply. So, his team helped him explore other options.

With help, Dave turned his house and pet sitting for friends and family members into a self-employment business. That was enough to help him get on the path to recovery. Soon he had enough money to pay for the medicine he needed to get better, and he was then able to look for a job and his own place to live. Today Dave is working as an accountant.

Dave found work to be the solution to overwhelming bills, and a way to meet his health care needs so he could get his life back. 

Tate was in his last year of transition services after finishing high school. He had a team of supports, including his teacher from the transition program, a Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) counselor, an employment service specialist through his CADI waiver and a waiver case manager who worked together to coordinate services. Through discussion with Tate, his family and the teachers who knew him well, it was determined that a customized approach to employment would work best to help him reach his goals. Tate was referred by his VR counselor to an agency that focused on providing Services for Discovery, a process that is part of Customized Employment. 

Through Discovery, it was learned that Tate has a strong interest and necessary skills to complete tasks related to exotic animal care. Once Discovery was complete, the WIOA youth service coordinator and the employment specialist coordinated to set up an internship opportunity at a local reptile shop. The business owner and supervisor of the reptile shop let Tate try different job tasks, soon identifying the tasks that most closely matched Tate's abilities and interests.

During the internship, Tate did remarkably well with his job responsibilities and  the job coach was able to phase out fairly quickly. When the internship ended, the employer was so pleased with Tate's care and good work that he invited Tate to stay on as a permanent employee. The employment specialist assisted in the negotiations for permanent employment.

Tate continues to work successfully. He cleans cages, handles the animals when they need to be removed from their cages and assists with snake molting. Tate has begun to phase out of his post-high school program to spend more time working and is developing a full life beyond school.

Tate is in a job that is meaningful to him and his work is valued by his employer and colleagues. The tasks that Tate is completing more and more independently are beyond the original expectations of his family, teachers and service providers.

Day and employment providers of all sizes across Minnesota are in various stages of organizational transformation. While some are just beginning to contemplate ending subminimum wage, closing a center-based program, or adding new services focused on community access and inclusion, other organizations are flourishing on the other side of transformation.

Watch stories from across the state about providers that have found success in the midst of transformation.

MTI Success Stories: Udac

MTI Success Stories: PHASE Industries

MTI Success Stories: Customized Employment in Action

MTI Success Stories: Ending Center-Based Work at Rise, Inc.

Work is possible! The young people in this video talk about how they went about finding their jobs and why employment is an important part of living their best lives. They are enjoying a variety of work experiences, earning an income that's paying their bills, and letting them have money for things they enjoy. Employment is giving them a sense of purpose and connecting them to others.

  • Christina: Mastering a job with remote supports during COVID-19. Christina is an energetic young woman who works at Bothwell Hospital in Sedalia, Missouri, as a part-time dietary aide. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Christina's work conditions and responsibilities changed. As a result, the nature of her supports also shifted from having an on-site job coach to remote supports via iPhone.
  • Jeremy: How early work experiences supported personal and career development. Since graduating from high school, Jeremy has held a 35- to 40-hour-a-week job at Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, is completing his final semester toward a college degree in office administration, and is pursuing his passion to be a magician.
  • Mia: Acquiring skills to lead and motivate others. Mia lives in Des Moines, Iowa. She enjoys speaking and singing in front of large groups of people. In high school, Mia participated in theater and speech competitions. She also is an avid reader and writer and enjoys communicating through her written work and videos. Mia is now putting all of these skills and interests together to run her own business.
  • Josh: Using an AmeriCorps experience to begin a new career. After Josh graduated from high school, he decided to gain additional experience as an AmeriCorps volunteer. Like many young people, he had tried various jobs in high school, but still wasn't sure what kind of job he really wanted. His time with AmeriCorps helped him take the next step toward a career.
  • Emilea: Finding the resources to start a coffee shop. Emilea lives in a small town in Iowa. She loves spending time with her family and her pets. She also owns and operates her own coffee shop, Em's Coffee Company. With the support of her family, Emilea planned for a career and then used local contacts and several funding streams to start her own business.
  • Zachary: Finding a job in web design through networking. Zachary lives in Hammond, Indiana, and says he has been programming computers since he was 11. For the last few years, he has worked part-time for Alkon Consulting, a local web design studio. His boss met Zachary through his job developer, reviewed his work to see if he was ready to work in the web design field, and decided to hire him.
  • Emmitt: How hard work turned an unpaid internship into a paid job. Emmitt is a man in his mid-20s from Indiana. He describes himself as loving, caring and good at teamwork. Outside of work, he likes to read and participate in the Best Buddies program.
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