Recognizing & Supporting Those With Disabilities Who Work

Liberty ARC’s Admissions and Intake Coordinator Valerie Harrington said she believes National Disability Employment Awareness Month is a crucial way to recognize those with disabilities who work, and in turn it inspires those who want to work but don’t think they can.

“People with impairments shouldn’t feel held back from working,” she said. “If you have a drive to work, then there’s a job for you.”

Valerie has been the Admissions and Intake Coordinator for Liberty ARC’s Career and Employment Network (CEN) for 20 years. CEN receives referrals for people who need employment support, individuals meet with Valerie and other CEN staff and they decide what jobs would be a match based on what the individual likes and doesn’t like. CEN also offers pre-employment vocational services that are often used by students at Amsterdam High School.

“Working gives people a purpose, it increases their self-esteem,” Valerie said. “If we can support people in working and keeping a job, then it’s a great feeling – for us and especially for them. A lot of people really want to work, but they don’t know that they can or they don’t know how to work with people and maintain their position, and it’s our job to teach them and support them.”

Valerie said her job inspires her daily and she really enjoys it.

“I love the diversity of my position,” she said. “And I love watching people progress at their jobs and meeting with them to hear how they’re doing. I especially like working with the students who go through our vocational program – watching them grow is exciting.”

Valerie said most students who start the vocational program don’t know how to interact in the workplace and they have a difficult time maintaining a position.

“Seeing the progress they make is amazing,” she said. “The program gives them work experience, connections in the community and the work experience they obtain can be used on their resume to find other jobs.”

Valerie said she especially enjoys seeing the students come back after they graduate high school.

“I’ve seen former students in our vocational program come back for employment support,” she said. “I’ve seen them get a job and maintain it, then get a license, get a car, get in a relationship, have children – I’ve seen the total progression of their lives, and it’s so enjoyable to watch.”

Valerie said she’s watched many different lives change due to employment, but one individual in particular comes to mind.

“We had an individual come to us from a very sheltered environment,” she said, “I’ve watched this person blossom into their own after getting a job. They’ve maintained this position, and working has helped with their socialization growth. It’s wonderful to see where they started and where they are now. It’s inspiring.”

Valerie said those who want to support people to be more independent and maintain jobs, should apply for a position at CEN.

“It’s a very rewarding position,” she said. “It’s versatile and you never know what will pop up – things change all the time. It’s not monotonous and is certainly never boring.”