Since sixth grade, some of my closest friends growing up were my peers in the special education class. After talking to disability workforce specialists and parents of kids with disabilities, there is a common concern of what these young adults’ opportunities will be post-high school. For many individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (or IDD), this looks like joining a group home or apprenticeship program. Though helpful, these programs fail to teach skill development in a setting that gives professionals with disabilities the autonomy to make their own decisions and find jobs and skills they are passionate about.
Coming to Ann Arbor, I’ve spent the past year learning about stakeholders, and the issue I found in my hometown prevails. As the Membership Director of Best Buddies, I have the privilege of forming close relationships with 70 adults with disabilities. They and other members of the IDD community have shared their experiences with workforce training programs in the area that are unengaging, like spending months performing mundane tasks such as wiping tables.
This has led to the creation of the PPD Project: a pipeline for professionals with disabilities. As the job-matching programs I’ve collaborated with have shared, too often, people with IDD are overlooked as having the same plans and aspirations. Our pipeline believes that individualized personal and professional growth allows our clients to reach their full potential of living unique and joyful lives. The coaching program strives to teach the skills that people with IDD need to pursue meaningful opportunities through passion projects, which is done through a four-step plan created with disability specialists.
Some examples of passion projects, as inspired by community members, include working with tools in the aspiration of being hired by a local hardware store, developing personal style to gain confidence, or selling handmade jewelry. I’ve seen success through this model by doing a prototype with my Best Buddy, who’s interested in advocacy. Together, we write letters to Congress, and it’s given him the chance to explore his interest and gain confidence in written communication. In return, the passion project’s skills have helped him to complete professional tasks, such as filling out a job application.
A Community-Based Solution
The Pipeline for Professionals with Disabilities fits into the Ann Arbor community as a transitional opportunity from basic education and workforce training to job matching programs. Before the pipeline, secondary schooling and day programs, though effective for other needs, do not empower individuals to make their own decisions in a supportive and collaborative environment. Our program will allow professionals to work with UM facilitators to vision goals and turn it into a passion plan – accumulating marketable skills, teachable moments, and success along the way. The PPD Project complements group homes and day programs by allowing for an engaging opportunity to enhance skills not provided on weekdays. We document professionals’ growth along the way.
After the pipeline, we have three goals for our professionals: 1) to articulate their strengths and story through a resume and interview, 2) to use skills and experience learned in their future engagements, and 3) to be empowered by knowing that their passions and well-being matter. We believe all this makes for employment readiness. After the program, we have job-matching programs to connect our professionals to. It also benefits the Ann Arbor community as employers will mutually benefit by seeing people with disabilities in a new light as they’re carrying out their passions.
The PPD Project has received $7,300 in capital. Although the initial model of this organization is a student organization, once it gains community traction, the funding comes from community support. An initiative to raise community funds is sponsoring a professional. Because the non-profit started as a student organization, it allows us to gain funding from multiple sources before it’s sustainable as a community organization. 30% of the budget is spent on professional’s passion projects. 20% may be used for expenses on hiring specialists, such as marketing. The rest is saved to sustain the business model.