By Aly Norling
When, amidst the pandemic, Vashon lost Seeds4Success, the Island’s only supported employment organization, AtWork! stepped in to continue providing employment services for Islanders with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). AtWork! is a supported employment nonprofit organization that works throughout Washington state to match people with I/DD with good jobs in their communities.
Supported employment also means providing the ongoing, onsite support an individual might need to retain the job. At its core, supported employment is a tool for achieving equal rights, equal pay, and equal opportunities for people with disabilities who wish to participate in their community’s workforce. I began working for AtWork! to make this happen on Vashon a year ago this month!
Supported employment has three phases: discovery, job development, and job coaching. Discovery ensures that we find meaningful job matches for an individual by administering creative activities that help us learn about the individual’s skills, talents, and dreams before matching them with a job. The job development phase is a super-fun endeavor in which we speak with Island businesses about supported employment, and work with them to match the skills and talents of the individuals we represent with the needs of the business. Finally, the job coaching phase is where we provide job training assistance to the employee and the employer, continue providing on-site assistance during work shifts, and set up accommodations within the workplace to sustain future independence for the employee.
Job coaching, like I/DD, exists on a spectrum. So, while some individuals we support simply utilize check-ins with their job coach, others make use of continued one-on-one job coaching for the entirety of their career. This diversity amongst the people we serve, and the creativity involved in providing the best services possible, is what makes supported employment always fun and rewarding.
By writing about AtWork! on Vashon over the course of three issues of The Vashon Loop, I hope to increase awareness about the benefits that supported employment brings to our community, find new business partners who wish to participate, and provide Islanders who qualify with a guide to our services if they are seeking help with employment.
In my year providing supported employment to the Island, I have seen such joy brought to our neighbors with I/DD, their coworkers, their employers, and our community at large. I hope to continue to grow AtWork!’s services and increase equality in the island workforce.
For more information about AtWork! and how to begin services, visit atworkwa.org or call (425) 274-4000.
For Island businesses wishing to discuss partnerships with AtWork!, contact Aly at AlyN@atworkwa.org.