By Marlene Ulisky, Manager, Financial Empowerment, National Disability Institute
Like his first steps which were unsteady and resulted in a fall, my nephew Jeremy’s first effort at working was not successful. Jeremy was born over 30 years ago with hydrocephalus which caused an intellectual disability. But Jeremy, like his two brothers, was taught that he could do most anything. He grew into a fine young man – very respectful, very kind and very comfortable around everyone. He graduated from high school with a special diploma. After that, he occupied his time helping his mother around the house, playing video games, bowling or attending various activities. He stopped thinking about trying to work after the State Vocational Rehabilitation Agency said he was not employable. But, time changes things, doesn’t it?
Several years went by. Early one morning Jeremy thought his mother was sleeping, but she never opened her eyes again. He wondered who would be there with him when his father was working? Who would play games with him or take him to his activities? My family asked about the “waiver” lists and waiver services. Alas, Jeremy was one of many people with disabilities who had ‘slipped through the cracks’ while he was in high school because he was not on any list. He began to feel restless and bored at home and his thoughts returned to working.
Through my persistence, Jeremy began receiving limited waiver services. These services proved to be a God-send. He began attending a sheltered workshop. Jeremy was pleased that he could finally work! Although he was happy, I felt that he could learn so much more if he was in an integrated setting. But, this was about HIS choices and not MINE, right? When asked about his ‘work’, he said that he loved it and wanted to stay at the sheltered workshop. But time changes many things. Jeremy’s very wise Support Coordinator, Todd, said that someday soon, something would change and Jeremy would move on.
A big change occurred indeed! Jeremy became eligible for a consolidated waiver and decided that he wanted his own place like other adults his age. A two-person group home became available several blocks away from his family home. Jeremy’s father made the tough decision to allow him to try it. Jeremy moved in, and despite several challenges, he adjusted quite well.
Jeremy learned to do light cooking and housekeeping and learned to wash his own clothing. He began acquiring financial skills and realized that he didn’t make much money—only about $30 per week. He decided that he wanted a better job. He wanted to save in order to buy some of the things he really wanted. He was becoming increasingly bored at the sheltered workshop and expressed persistent interest in competitive employment.
With my help, Jeremy applied for services through the State Vocational Rehabilitation Agency. At his initial meeting, his counselor noted that Jeremy was very social and extremely motivated. Jeremy’s next step on the journey to work will be an assessment to determine his interests and his capabilities! I am hopeful that his assessment will result in a positive outcome. Having competitive, supported AND integrated work will help Jeremy continue to grow!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Marlene Ulisky, a 35-year employee of the Social Security Administration (SSA), developed expertise in developing relationships with partners across Florida to educate them on the disability programs administered by SSA, to their mutual benefit. After leaving SSA she worked with the Florida Office of Vocational Rehabilitation to establish the Partnership Plus Program under the Ticket to Work Program and then was re-hired by SSA to conduct training and to assist them with managing critical integrity workloads including OIG investigations due to concealment of work and medical and work continuing disability reviews. At NDI she is a part of the Training and Technical Assistance Team and provides support to her colleagues and to beneficiaries when complex SSA issues arise.