The Joy Of Work: A Disabled Man's Quest For A Job Michael Medina is looking for a job that will make him as happy as he once was when he worked as a janitor. He's aided by a job coach from the Arc of San Francisco, part of a national nonprofit network that helps people with developmental disabilities find general employment.
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The Joy Of Work: A Disabled Man's Quest For A Job

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The Joy Of Work: A Disabled Man's Quest For A Job

The Joy Of Work: A Disabled Man's Quest For A Job

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Now finding a job can be especially tough for people with developmental disabilities. Advocates say more than two-thirds are unemployed. Reporter Rachel Dornhelm has this story from San Francisco.

RACHEL DORNHELM: Michael Medina is nostalgic for the days he had a job. Just ask him about where he used to work.

Mr. MICHAEL MEDINA: Stacey's Bookstore. That's number one, I got wonderful -the biggest bookstore I ever been to. A wonderful store. Work as you want, long as you want. It's wonderful.

DORNHELM: Fifty two year-old Medina was working as a janitor. The routine was very important to him. In fact, when Stacey's cut back on all of its employees' hours three years ago, Medina continued to work his longer shift despite repeated reminders not to.

Ms. GERTA MEDINA: In my room, I keep a picture from Michael. Look at his smile, he is happy.

DORNHELM: That's Medina's mother, Gerta, holding a picture of him at his old job. Gerta is now in her 70s. When asked if she worries about her son's future when she's gone, she says…

Ms. MEDINA: Oh. All the time, all the time. It's whether I would say, job is important.

DORNHELM: She says, they both cried when he lost his last job. She knows it's a tough market, but she's thankful that he has helped finding a new job. Medina is a client of The Arc, a national non-profit that offers support services to people with developmental disabilities like him. Today, his job coach from The Arc, Nina Asay, is taking him to the law firm Hanson Bridgett for a job assessment. The first challenge is the elevator.

Unidentified Man: Twenty-second floor.

Mr. MEDINA: It is confusing, pecking order.

DORNHELM: Medina is filling in for a coffee attendant. The work includes clearing conference rooms and doing dishes. Asay says this will help her figure out the ideal work environment for Medina. Today, he's getting high marks for handling the fluctuating stress level.

Ms. NINA ASAY (Job Coach, The Arc): What happens if there are dishes in the sink right there?

Mr. MEDINA: Put it in my cart.

Ms. ASAY: Put it in your cart. Correct.

Ms. ASAY: One person may say they like an office setting, but when you bring them to an office setting, it doesn't quite work out. So it's really nice that we have this site to assess our clients to see if they can fit in this setting.

DORNHELM: A few days later, Asay goes with Medina to an interview for a janitor's job at a senior housing center. She gives him a last-minute pep talk.

Ms. ASAY: And also, if you still can't get it, you can always look to me and then I can help with that as well.

Mr. MEDINA: That way I could ask you for your advice and…

Ms. ASAY: Exactly.

DORNHELM: But the kind of help Asay offers is at risk. Almost every state is talking about slashing funding to programs like these. Peter Berns is executive director of The Arc of the United States.

Mr. PETER BERNS (Executive Director, The Arc of the United States): So someone may find that they used to have a job coach to help them and now the funding for that job coach isn't there anymore.

DORNHELM: Berns says The Arc supports tens of thousands of people with developmental disabilities in finding general employment. That makes them the largest non-profit network doing this work. Berns says, despite demand the number of people in supported employment, about 120,000, hasn't increased in years. And now, there's a danger of backsliding. The Arc of San Francisco alone says it could lose three million state dollars this year, a third of its funding. These economic challenges just come on top of the biggest obstacle to placing people in jobs, says John Kemp of the United States Business Leadership Network, negative stereotypes.

Mr. JOHN KEMP (CEO, United States Business Leadership Network): The first response of the unenlightened employer is, no way. We have too many complex issues here, too many business processes that they will never be able to understand and be able to execute.

DORNHELM: But Kemp says there are bright spots. Large national companies including Walgreens, McDonald's and the supermarket chain Safeway continue to create opportunities for people with developmental disabilities. And there's a bright spot for Michael Medina, too. He was just offered a job as a bagger at the grocery chain, Trader Joe's. He's already hard at work. For NPR News, I'm Rachel Dornhelm in San Francisco.

GREENE: Now to learn more about resources for helping developmentally disabled people find work, you can go to our Web site,

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