An image of a smiling younger disabled woman

The Working Consumer: Finding Independence for People with Developmental Disabilities

When someone receives care from a caregiver, people often assume that they have lost their independence. But often for people with developmental disabilities, it’s just the opposite. Many people with developmental disabilities currently hold minimum-wage jobs while receiving care. They hop out of bed, go through their morning routine, commute to work, and return home later with experiences to share about their day—all while earning a paycheck. Despite their disability, with the support and encouragement of their caregiver and care team, they are able to gain a sense of independence and manage their working life.

Decades ago, these otherwise capable people would be sent to an institution to live out their lives and receive treatment. Currently in the developmental disabilities field, a shift has emerged to transition people from institutions to in-home care in order to better receive the support they need to thrive in the community. This shift has particularly impacted a 70-year-old man named David, who has an intellectual disability. Sixty-one years ago, his family’s only option was to send him to a Development Center where his condition would be treated. He lived there from the time when he was nine years old, up until this year. While growing up in the Developmental Center, he developed a routine of making rounds to all the administrative offices and shredding paper for the staff. Eventually, they started giving him pocket change for his help, and so began his working life.

Now David receives care through Careforth, which helps individuals with disabilities receive 24/7 care and support at home from a professional care team and live-in caregiver. He has been living on a family farm with his caregiver, a former staff member at the Developmental Center, and her husband. His caregiver and care team knew that he had a desire for the purpose and independence that working provided, so they made sure to keep that as a central part of his care plan. His room is set up with his own paper shredder to help out in the house, and he goes back to the Developmental Center he spent his whole life in, one day per week, continuing to help with their paper shredding needs. David also loves helping out on the farm; one of his favorite tasks is collecting eggs. For many caregivers, supporting a consumer with a working life is a unique form of care, but just as important.

How Caregivers Can Support Their Working Loved-Ones

  • Guide them through unfamiliar processes. People with developmental disabilities may be capable of performing the duties required at work, but might not be able to fill out an application or follow-up with a potential or actual employer. Teaching them these specifics, reminding them to follow-up or check-in with their place of work, going over paperwork, and supporting them with other logistics of the hiring and working process is very important for the caregiver to support them with.
  • Teach them what’s expected at work. People with developmental disabilities might not have had experience in a workplace before and need a rundown of the expectations and standards of that environment. Reminding them to have good manners, keep good hygiene, and how to navigate a relationship with their boss will go a long way.
  •  Motivate them through reason. Connect certain actions with specific personal goals of theirs. For example, if they don’t want to shower, explain to them it won’t be acceptable for work. Since the person wants to get out of the house, go to work, and have a social life, they will understand the natural consequences of not showering and be more personally motivated to keep clean.
  • Encourage them. Make sure to regularly compliment them and give positive feedback. Tell them they look nice that day, and that they’re doing a great job, when appropriate. Listen to their experiences of their work day when they get home. The strong relationship with their caregiver has an enormous effect on their motivation to keep working and managing their lives as a whole.

For people like David, work is a significant part of their identity and lives as a whole. Work gives David structure, socialization, and keeps his mind and body active and healthy. When he goes to work, he and his caregiver can have their own unique experiences and reconvene in the evenings to talk about their days. David can contribute to conversations with his own stories from the day and help develop and strengthen their relationship. Plus, earning honest money provides him with a certain power, independence, and feeling of making his own way in the world. If you try to take David’s pocket change from him, you’ll hear fighting words. He’s earned his money through his own hard work and is proud of it.

This post was originally published by Christine Kristanich, a Branch Manager for Careforth, formerly known as Caregiver Homes.

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