One of the goals of Skills Development Services (SDS) of Tullahoma is to provide jobs for its clients.
SDS is a nonprofit serving individuals with developmental disabilities.
The organization aims to help its clients become and remain as independent as possible, and one of the ways to achieve this objective is through securing employment, according to Lori Ledford, job developer at SDS.
SDS has partnered with several local businesses that provide work opportunities for the organization’s clients.
However, Ledford said, it would be beneficial for the entire community if more businesses join the efforts to help individuals with intellectual disabilities become independent.
As a job developer, Ledford contacts businesses, attempting to find jobs for individuals with developmental disabilities.
SDS has 65 clients in Tullahoma, and about 12 of whom are currently employed, said Ledford.
She praised the local organizations supporting SDS.
The Tullahoma businesses employing SDS clients are Tullahoma Lanes, TOP Rehab Services, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Captain D’s and Anchor Defense.
Anchor Defense produces military apparel and products made with peat moss that are used for cleaning spilled oil. The primary responsibility of the employees working at the company is filling the bags with peat moss.
First United Methodist Church in Tullahoma also provides jobs for members of SDS.
Several of the SDS members work at the Department of Human Services and Save-A-Lot in Manchester, according to Ledford.
“At Save-A-Lot in Manchester, one gentleman stocks shelves, takes boxes, puts them in the baler and crushes them,” Ledford said. “He sweeps and mops, too.”
Most of the duties are related to cleaning and organizing, said Ledford.
“These are part-time jobs,” she said. “They work anywhere from 12 to 16 hours a week.”
‘It is wonderful’
Jerry Patrick is one of the SDS clients working at the Tullahoma Lanes.
“I have worked here for a long time,” Patrick said. “I wash tables, and I sweep the parking lot. I like my job. It is wonderful.”
Brenda Lackey also enjoys her job at the Tullahoma Bowling Lanes.
“I do party bags and clean,” Lackey said. “I like it.”
When the Tullahoma Bowling Lanes hosts a birthday party, each guest receives a complimentary gift bag.
“I love putting the party bags together,” Lackey said. “I have been here for about eight years.”
“We have people who wish they would work but don’t have jobs,” Ledford said.
Several of the SDS clients are “very capable and would love to be employed,” said Ledford.
“They can do cleaning services, and outdoors and landscaping work,” Ledford said.
All SDS clients who are hired have job coaches to guide the new employees through the process and help them learn their duties.
“A lot of employers don’t understand that our individuals come in with a job coach,” Ledford said. “And the job coach works alongside our clients to help them. Job coaches are like mentors - they keep the employees on task, help them clock in and clock out.
“With the job coach, they have direction. The employers can’t stop what they are doing to teach [our clients] over and over, so the job coach is there to help out to get them going.”
The ultimate goal is to get SDS clients as independent as possible at their jobs.
In addition to the job coaches, Ledford also continues to be involved when a client of SDS is hired.
“I have to make visits each month with the employer, just to make sure there are no problems,” Ledford said. “I hardly have any complaints ever. Our guys are always going to be on time.
“They don’t want to miss work – if they have to miss work they get upset. Some of them have been employed for nine years. Once they get a job, they keep it.”
Why hire individuals with disabilities?
Businesses employing individuals with developmental disabilities are eligible for certain tax breaks, said Ledford.
Additionally, by hiring people with disabilities, employers gain valuable workers.
“They deserve a chance,” Ledford said. “They are always dependable. They work hard. They never complain about their job. They are happy to receive a paycheck.”
‘Embrace our guys’
The job search process is also an important process, said Ledford.
“We work with them – coach them how to do a resume and how to fill out an application,” Ledford said. “We want the community to embrace our guys – they are very capable.”
Amelia Majors, SDS coordinator, encouraged local business to hire individuals with disabilities.
“They have dedication,” Majors said. “They love to have responsibility and ownership of the job.”
For more information about hiring SDS clients, call Ledford at 931-393-3840, ext. 11.
Tennessee ranks low in disability hiring
Data from the 2018 Annual Disability Statistics Compendium shows that while Americans with disabilities are entering the workforce in greater numbers, serious gaps in employment exist between different states.
Tennessee ranks 44 when it comes to disability employment rates in 2017.
The total number of working age people with disabilities in Tennessee is 538,061. About 33 percent of them – 179,049 – are employed.
This number is improving, however.
There have been 4,679 job gains compared with previous years.
Florida experienced the biggest growth in job numbers, with more than 23,000 people with disabilities entering the workforce.
Of the 50 states, 29 states saw job gains for Americans with disabilities.
Elena Cawley may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.