Giving a purpose, voice and place in our community: Vaya Health supports local microenterprises in support of National Disability Employment Awareness Month

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Building a strong community starts with supporting local businesses when possible, and now you can join Vaya in supporting member employment as they grow their own. This October marks the 75th observance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), and Vaya Health is supporting microenterprises run by individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (IDD).

“For so many decades, this population was kind of pushed out,” said Michelle Cates, Vaya Olmstead care manager. “They didn’t have any work, they didn’t have a voice, and they didn’t have a purpose. Having employment gives them a purpose, a voice and a place where they are giving back and being received by the community.”

Michelle started noticing the number of members running their own businesses while working in care coordination. She was amazed by the dedication to their work and knew that if she was not aware of the goods and services being provided by members, that the greater community was not either.

Dianna shares happiness one card at a time with D’s Notes

Dianna is one of those members. She runs “D’s Notes,” crafting handmade cards using various techniques. Through the business, she’s gaining independence and spreading happiness.

Starting their own business is a way that individuals with IDD can find employment, which is not always easy. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of employees with significant disabilities is about one-third that of employees without disabilities. NDEAM helps educate about disability employment issues and celebrates the accomplishments of these workers.

“People with disabilities are experienced problem solvers with a proven ability to adapt,” said Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) Deputy Assistant Secretary, Jennifer Sheehy, in an ODEP press release. “Now more than ever, flexibility is important for both workers and employers. National Disability Employment Awareness Month celebrates the ingenuity people with disabilities bring to America’s workplaces.”

The theme this year for NDEAM is “increasing access and opportunity.” Michelle is helping individuals create business plans and obtain supportive employment to be included as part of their Person-Centered Plan of Care through the NC Innovations Waiver. This is a federally approved waiver for individuals with IDD who prefer to get care and support services in their home or community, rather than an institutional setting.

“They need the support and staff to keep going and keep the momentum,” said Michelle. “They also need that outlet for their creativity and to feel like they are valued, and I think the businesses really do that. Whether it’s making cards or hauling scrap metal, the dedication these members put into their business is just inspiring. They love it  ̶  It’s their life.”

Supportive employment, whether self-employed or at an established business, means Vaya members who qualify receive funding for staff to assist them with anything from applying for jobs and working on interviewing skills to going to work with them as support for issues like anxiety or behavior. The goal is to get individuals established where they can work on their own, at which point they can switch over to long term supportive employment with less frequent staff support.

The microenterprises, and employment in general, give members much more than an income. It gives them independence, confidence and a feeling of value.

“Like the rest of us, it’s our right and our privilege to work, earn our own money and support ourselves,” said Allison, Dianna’s support staff. “Just because Dianna is in a wheelchair should not automatically disqualify her from the same type of life the rest of us enjoy. Her being able to participate like everyone else is so important.”

You’ll find some of the most dedicated workers out there running these microenterprises. Plus, you’ll support a local business and, more importantly, a fellow community member. Individual member stories, like Dianna’s, and information on how you can purchase will be posted as they are made available on our Vaya Health News page and on Facebook.

For more information about National Disability Employment Awareness Month, visit www.dol.gov/NDEAM.

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