© Eric Sparling – Amherst Daily News
Rebecca Sprague has been working for the Bridge’s laundry service for years. She’s responsible for the hand-ironing.
AMHERST – There’s been progress.
“We’ve come leaps and bounds,” said Susan Thibodeau.
She’s the executive director of the Bridge Adult Services Centre. The question being discussed is the degree to which the Bridge’s differently-abled clients have integrated into society – not just gaining acceptance by the community, but participating as employees and peers.
Thibodeau’s message is positive but with reservations. The executive director outlines a number of misconceptions about the differently-abled and how well they can integrate into the workplace.
“That (employers are) going to have to provide too much supervision,” Thibodeau said, outlining one concern she’s aware of.
Another hurdle is a tendency to underestimate the capabilities of her clients. Then there are employers who have a bad experience with one client and won’t consider a second. Thibodeau points out that employees who don’t meet expectations aren’t unique to the community she helps.
And there may be employer concerns a person who’s differently-abled represents risk that could result in a lawsuit.
“There’s always a fear there,” she said.
Thibodeau walked through some of the ways she can mitigate those concerns. Ideally, a job coach from Bridge would accompany a new employee until s/he was settled. This is only possible with grant funding. Existing Bridge resources can still help, though. For example, the staff will help an employer source a client who’s a good fit, outlining what they think the client can handle and what the limitations might be.
Communication is important. The Bridge can help if they’re told about problems immediately. What too often happens, though, according to Thibodeau, is a problem goes unaddressed, then an excuse is made to let the employee go.
A number of non-traditional ways of paying the employee may be possible, too. For example, the client may be a ‘volunteer’ at the business, but receive payment from the Bridge. Or the employer may have a contract with the Bridge, and the Bridge pays its ‘employee’ – the client – to do the work entailed in the contract.
“We run a laundry service, we run a store,” said Thibodeau, as examples of client competence.
Rebecca Sprague has been at the Bridge for most of two decades. She works in the laundry service and has been doing hand-ironing for years.
“(It) gives me a little extra money,” said Sprague.
She likes the socializing, and it’s something to do: Amherst has shopping walking and eating, she summarized.
“That’s basically it, though,” she said.
They once had 40 shirts come in for a single customer.
“It can be a little overwhelming some times,” she said.
Thibodeau said some clients prefer to work at the Bridge, and forego the pressures of an outside job. But others want to follow the track of broader society: go to school, grow up, and get a job.