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Via Mainstreaming Force that is the Workforce, Making Disability as Ordinary as Possible- Hamaspik’s Ever-growing Employment Programs Continue to Integrate Individuals

Nothing says “mainstream” like joining the workforce.


Nothing makes you the same as anyone else—doing the nine-to-five, dragging yourself to and from work every day (along with everyone else), and even laughing at jokes bemoaning the drudgery of the nine-to-five like everyone else.


Having a job means you’ve arrived.  Having a job means you’re mainstream.  And having a job means that having a disability does not have to define your ability.


Through several employment-related programs, New York State has been striving to bring that mainstream experience to New Yorkers with special needs for several years now.


And one of its primary vehicles towards realizing that goal has been, and remains, the New York State Education Dept. (NYSED)’s Adult Career and Continuing Education Services-Vocational Rehabilitation (ACCES-VR) Program.


Working for life

Just as it’s been said, and only half in jest, that retirement is bad for your health, neither is inactivity and stagnation at prime workforce-entry age good for your health.


But that’s just one of the beneficial “side effects” of ACCES-VR, which NYSED partner Hamaspik has been providing to a growing number of individuals for well over a decade.


At Hamaspik of Rockland County, which has boasted a robust and responsive ACCES-VR program for years now, Employment Director Yaakov (“Yanki”) Grunwald presides over a program that pairs people with special needs with local and regional businesses that need a good worker or two.


And good workers they are.


People on the autism spectrum, for example, are widely known for their powers of concentration—able to remain focused on repetitive tasks that would mentally exhaust others.


Via ACCES-VR, Mr. Grunwald and his team of Employment Coordinators regularly coach both employees and employers on working with each other.  And thanks to Hamaspik’s ongoing success and increasing number of employable people supported, the agency recently welcomed its newest Employment Coordinator, the disability-services-experienced Mrs. Esther Walter.


On any given day, then, those dedicated Coordinators can usually be found out in the field across the expanses of Orange and Rockland Counties—from a commercial pharmacy in Nyack to a Chinese fast-food joint in Wesley Hills—helping individuals acclimate to and maintain mainstream employment.


The ongoing initial coaching experience can take weeks until the individual is fully comfortable with his or her new surroundings. Then there’s the fact that they now have co-workers, and a healthy measure of workplace banter, to contend with.


And, of course, there’s one “minor” detail—they have be trained how to do the job.


But once the individuals are up to speed, which they frequently attain at surprising speed, ACCES-VR coaching consists primarily of maintenance—with Hamaspik’s employment staff checking in as necessary to make sure that everything’s flowing smoothly in the mainstream.


What’s more, for many ACCES-VR participants, getting to and from work—that infamous feature of modern American life known as the commute—is a mainstreaming goal in its own right.


That’s why a major part of ACCES-VR includes what one might call “commuter independence training”—in plain English, learning how to comfortably take a bus or other public transportation, fares and all.


Hamaspik also bolsters the state’s disability employment efforts in the greater Hudson Valley by also providing the OPWDD’s Pathway to Employment initiative.  That relatively new program, which marks its third anniversary this July, provides vocational assessment, job readiness training, travel training, benefits management and employment education, and career planning.


Positive changes all, but life-changing nonetheless.  And once those changes are internalized and, well, mainstreamed, the individual has been successfully mainstreamed.


And once mainstreamed, chances are better than ever that the individual will remain mainstreamed for life.


Making disability mainstream

But New York State’s disability employment programs—including the OPWDD’s Supported Employment (SEMP) program, which Hamaspik also provides, targeting a more involved demographic—are part of a bigger national picture.


That picture is to bring as many individuals as possible, including all but those with the most limited abilities, into the mainstream.


Towards that end, the federal Medicaid program has been spearheading a nationwide shift away from the sheltered workshops of old, steering an increasing number of people into mainstream jobs.


New York State, like other states, has been moving to close sheltered workshops, and an OPWDD plan has been underway for some time now to transition individuals employed by the workshops into more-integrated jobs—and mainstream ones, too.