On January 28, 2013, Governor Dayton signed an Executive Order committing the State of Minnesota to “ensuring that inclusive, community-based services are available to individuals with disabilities of all ages” through the creation of an Olmstead Plan. This plan has a number of elements, one of which is employment, that has resulted in a draft “Employment First Policy” dated June 30, 2014 that includes these four core values:
1. Employment is the first and preferred outcome for working-age people with disabilities, including those with complex and significant disabilities.
2. People with disabilities are competitively employed or self-employed (by this they mean 40 hours a week).
3. Employees with disabilities earn at least the minimum wage and benefits.
4. Employees with disabilities are fully integrated into the workplace and interact with co-workers, customers, and the public.
If you have read my previous editorials you already know that I disagree with each of these core values because none of them are based on individual choice. But I will not belabor points already made. Instead let me share points from a story about Matt Cottle written by Joyce M. Rosenberg of the Associated Press and printed in the August 17, 2014 edition of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Read the full story online here: www.twincities.com/Business/ci_26345065/Entrepreneurship-the-answer-for-some-with-autism.
It seems that after six years of bagging groceries and pushing carts, at I presume minimum wage, Matt wanted more and with his family’s support started a business called the Stuttering King Bakery selling cookies, brownies, and scones to local cafés. According to the article he generates $1,200 monthly in this endeavor and is quoted as saying “I’m as happy as an angel.” After reading the article I thought what a great example of how “one size does not fit all” and what a wonderful outcome for Matt along with a testament to his family’s love. That said, how does Matt’s choice measure up to the core values of the Employment First Policy?
1. Matt has complex needs and is employed so the first value is met.
2. Matt is self-employed at a presumed 40 hours a week so the second value is met.
3. Matt earns $6.25 an hour, at best (1,200 – 200 for ingredients divided by 160 hours), and I doubt the Stuttering King Bakery provides him with benefits so the third value is not met.
4. Matt is not integrated into the workplace since he is doing the cooking alone at home and his mother is the one interacting with customers and the public so the fourth value is not met.
Yikes, a very creative and individual employment option that is working very well for Matt and his family FAILS to meet two of the four core values of the Employment First Policy. Perhaps that should make the members of the Governor’s Olmstead sub-cabinet pause before proceeding? At Merrick, Inc., we define meaningful work with the following core values:
1. Completing preferred tasks.
2. Being in a placement of choice (i.e., facility-based, work crew, employer-based, other).
3. Working desired and consistent hours.
4. Earning satisfactory wages.
Without going point-by-point, Matt’s self-employment meets all four of these values because they are consistent with person-centered planning and individual choice and not a bureaucratic notion of what “employment” means to thousands of citizens with disabilities.
It appears that the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) was tasked with distributing the draft Employment First Policy and collecting public comment for consideration by the Olmstead sub-cabinet. Only a 30-day comment period was offered that expired on July 31, 2014. Along with many others, I submitted my own concerns regarding this policy and requested an extension of the public comment period so that citizens with disabilities and their families could participate in this policy discussion. To date DEED has not indicated the next steps for this policy. If you want more information on the Olmstead plan you can click on the following link:
Darlene Zangara is the Executive Director of the Olmstead Implementation Office and her contact information is on their website. You can also submit your comments or thoughts to their general email box at opc.public@state.mn.us, however, I am not sure that it will be routed to the Olmstead sub-cabinet. It is important that these policymakers hear from citizens with disabilities, their families, and advocates that the Employment First Policy is a half-baked bureaucratic action that does not respect and value individual choice.

If you appreciate reading Bark’s Bytes and for $20 want a chance to win our Big Apple Weekend Raffle that is EITHER roundtrip airfare for two to New York, with a three night stay at a four star hotel, two tickets to a Broadway play, and $100 restaurant gift certificate OR four round trip tickets anywhere in the Continental U.S., with the winner announced at our Gala on 10/10/14, send him an email at jwb@merrickinc.org and he can make that happen.


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