Graeme 4m 607
The views of this article are the perspective of the author and may not be reflective of Confessions of the Professions.
In a past life, I was known as a pretty good supervisor. I was given the opportunity to take a work crew program that primarily hired individuals with developmental disabilities in an attempt to turn it into a profitable business. I came on board and had three crews, 12 employees, and not enough work to keep both of them busy for more than two hours per day. It was in dire shape, was about to be shut down, and I was given six months to rehabilitate it. At worst, I figured I had a steady job for six months. At best… well, who knew.
People think that working with individuals who have developmental disabilities would be challenging, but it’s not. In many ways, it’s easier. People often look down on them because they have a disability. They’ve had something to prove from literally the moment they were born. They are discounted, frowned upon, laughed at, and often mocked. From the moment I stepped foot into my position, I discovered one very crucial thing: if I would fight for them, they would fight for me. If I worked hard for them, they would work harder than they ever had in their life in return. So I made that commitment to them and that’s where our journey began.
In just two years, our core group of 12 employees expanded to 38 employees. We were filming television commercials because we had become a profitable business. We were having employees with crippling disabilities being poached by independent employers because they were better than people with two capable arms and legs. I’ll never forget the smile on a kid’s face when he stepped into my office and showed me a job offer he’d received where he’d be making more money than I was. “Is this any good?” he asked me.
I just smiled and nodded. “You should be proud of everything you’ve done and you should take that offer right now,” I said. I handed him my cell phone. “Call them now and take it.”
I hired a 19 year old kid who flunked out of school because of his developmental delay [because before the age of 21 in my state, it’s called a “delay” instead of a “disability.”] He was aggressive, argumentative, and my boss told me point-blank that if the kid failed, then I’d be fired because of the trouble he was expected to cause. Why did I hire him? Because I could see a lot of me in him. You see, this kid, I’ll call him Chad, had no legal rights. He wasn’t his own guardian, he couldn’t make choices for himself, and he couldn’t even have control over his own money.
Chad wanted to be his own man. He was tired of being held back. He wanted to be challenged. Growing up, I’d always wanted to be challenged too. And so I challenged him. We spent 10 hour days building patios together. I taught him how to build stone walls. We spent three days in -60F weather building a foundation for a home where I saw him grow up before my eyes. A month later, my boss told me to give Chad a raise. I did. Three months later, Chad was able to petition to become his own guardian, which his parents fought. He won. Today, he’s making so much money as a contractor that even though he qualifies to receive SSDI disability payments, he doesn’t take a dime. He completely supports himself.
What did I learn from my time as their supervisor? That anyone, if given half a chance and a little bit of faith, has the ability to find complete success.