CPC Member – Allison Falleur

Growing up with Cerebral Palsy my family drilled one central and all encompassing message into my head, saying: “Not only CAN you do everything anyone else can do, you WILL do everything anyone else can do.” As time went on, this direction seemed fairly simple for me to follow. I was fully mainstreamed by the first grade. For college I left home and traveled an hour away for school. I graduated from Willamette University Cum Laude with a double major Bachelor of Arts degree. Things were pretty much smooth for me, except when it came to employment. On high school or college breaks, I was expected to work like the other kids in my family. I applied everywhere, from retail shops to doctors’ offices, for seasonal employment. I flew through interviews, often demonstrating Bilingual Spanish skills. I did not land one job. I settled year after year for unpaid volunteer jobs. This was a bit easier after college, not extremely, but the degree did carry some clout. I found that the protections of Title I of the ADA, promising that people with disabilities were safe from discrimination in employment, lacked something in translation as it was put into practice. After about a year packed every day with post college interviews I landed a job with Disability Rights Oregon. Ironically, or perhaps fittingly, my job is to help individuals with disabilities in their quest for employment.

Here at Disability Rights Oregon I’ve seen the struggles of every qualified individual who passes my doorstep looking for work. The Employment First Initiative is a bold investment in the potential of our people. With employment numbers for people with disabilities woefully low, the Employment First Initiative is at least in mission, a breath of fresh air. The Employment First Initiative puts forth the following statistic: “The present level of unemployment for adults with developmental disabilities in Oregon, at 80%” the Initiative recognizes that this is “inacceptable” (DHS). The Initiative’s goal set forth to the Governor in 2010, asserts that each year, that number will decrease by 8% increasing the number of gainfully employed individuals who experience an intellectual impairment. The state will achieve this by investing fledging public funding into job coaching and job support programs, job placement services, Assistive Technology and other areas which support private job placement and a full minimum wage paycheck. As the economy continues to falter and the Governor’s budget asks for further cuts to the SPD/DD budget. Responsibility for funding imperative services is shifting, right or wrong, from the public sector to the private sector. Concerns for how this will affect individuals receiving services are vast and troubling. There are no easy answers. But one answer may be employment. After all, we cannot ignore the skill set of this as of yet untapped resource. The Employment First Initiative points to national studies which show job attendance is higher among workers with disabilities and turnover is lower. The task before all who work in the employment sector of disability advocacy is making public perception and reality meet. How to make employment possible for each individual with a disability is a far more surmountable goal than reframing the mindset of each employer who denies an applicant with a disability a job. OK the task is not easy on any front. But I’ve committed as have state leaders across Oregon to the glory of the quest. All individuals, schools, families and businesses must raise their expectations. Everyone has something they CAN contribute and NEEDS to contribute. We in the supported employment arena, realize this is not a simple or easy initiative for everyone to swallow, but we do think there is a job for everyone and are committed to being “creative and tenacious in providing supports” (Oregon Statewide leaders’ statement, September 2nd 2010).

Allison Falleur

Community Work Incentives Coordinator

Disability Rights Oregon

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