Waterloo eyes opportunities for disabled adults

November 29, 2018

WATERLOO -- A recent Waterloo School District community conversation aimed at increasing community-based employment opportunities for adults with disabilities brought more than 35 Waterloo businesses, parents and guests together at the Waterloo Farmers and Merchants State Bank.

During the September regular Waterloo School Board meeting, Waterloo School District pupil services director Tori Kalscheuer presented information to the board on the 2018 Wisconsin Employment First grant that was awarded to the Waterloo School District.

“The grant focus is to host a community conversation to talk about barriers to employment for people with disabilities and to begin the conversation about limited transportation for adults with disabilities, especially getting to and from jobs which is a major barrier,” Kalscheuer said during the September Waterloo School Board meeting.

The 2018 Wisconsin Employment First grant application was submitted by and awarded to Waterloo School District special education and transition teacher Connie Dettmer.

Valued at $2,000, the ultimate outcome of the grant is to assist in gaining access to local businesses and job developers, ensure students and adults with disabilities are able to obtain and maintain paying employment and to develop viable means of transportation to ensure job security.

During the recent Waterloo School District community conversation, Kalscheuer presented information and statistics to those in attendance regarding individuals with disabilities.

Currently individuals with disabilities represent the largest minority group in America and every 10 minutes, an estimated 500 Americans will develop a disability. One in every five people or 20 percent of the United States population is a person with a disability. An estimated 20 million families in the United States has a least one family member with a disability.

According the 2017 Annual Disability Statistics Compendium, the state of Wisconsin is among the top ranking states in the nation for employing people with disabilities with an employment rate of 41.8 percent.

The Wisconsin Act 178, which prioritizes competitive integrated employment for individuals with disabilities, was implemented on March 28 of this year.

“We’re looking at the environment we’re looking at the student’s skills and the skills it would take for them to have to complete the job. We’re looking at the stamina that it would take and the stamina that the students have and the ability to learn all the tasks and pieces of a job and what kind of adaptation we might do to create success,” Kalscheuer said in regards to potential employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities.

Dettmer presented a video to those in attendance showing Waterloo High School students in the district’s transitional program working in different areas throughout the school building.

Students in Dettmer’s transitional program also set up the community conversation meeting space, shopped for food and supplies, created the flower arrangements, wrapped the silverware in napkins and alphabetized name tags for those in attendance and were considered the “behind the scene managers” of the event.

“Our folks with disabilities are so dedicated and can be well-trained because they work really hard,” Kalscheuer said.

Olivia Conklin of the Wisconsin Department of Vocational Rehabilitation talked with those in attendance about DVR’s role in guiding individuals with disabilities towards the work environment.

“DVR’s mission is pretty simple. It is helping people with disabilities find employment. Find a job, keep a job or get a better job,” Conklin said.

DVR representatives provide assistance in job development, job placement, counseling and temporary work experiences as well as individualizing job opportunities to create matches based on the skills and abilities of the consumers involved.

Bobby Rehm III of GrassRoots Marketing and manager of Pizza Ranch in Watertown has been instrumental in providing a 12-week job assessment for two students that are currently in the Waterloo School District transitional program.

Rehm has assisted in carving out positions for individuals with disabilities and helping them grow within their jobs for future opportunities.

“We are looking for long-lasting employees that can be with us for the long haul that we can trust,” Rehm said.

Riley Zink, manager of Kwik Trip in Waterloo and Cody Caraballo, transitional program student and retail worker at Kwik Trip in Waterloo, spoke during the community conversation about the successful journey Caraballo has had in finding employment at Kwik Trip.

Caraballo, who has worked at Kwik Trip for three-years, spoke openly about being autistic and how he enjoys cleaning the refrigerator doors and counters and straightening the racks at Kwik Trip during his three-hour, three-day a week work schedule.

“I like the work I do. I like the people there. I make good friends,” Caraballo said.

Zink remarked that Cody has great relationships with his fellow co-workers and is a dedicated and hard worker.

“I think people with disabilities want to be treated as equals. My job makes me feel respected and happy and a lot of people with disabilities probably want to be treated like that too. I mean seriously, give them a chance, they might surprise you,” Caraballo said.

Area business representatives, parents and community conversation guests worked together and discussed barriers and/or concerns with hiring individuals with disabilities and how the Waterloo School District could support and/or answer questions regarding those barriers and/or concerns.

Barriers and concerns discussed were transportation of individuals with disabilities to and from their jobs, safety and support systems in different work departments, job training in school, how to properly handle confidential and sensitive-date work areas and how much redirection and support is needed when a job coach is no longer working with an individual with disabilities.

The community conversation also focused on how the Waterloo community can better engage individuals with disabilities in community-based employment settings.

Suggested ideas were to have local businesses provide tours to show job possibilities, hold a “reverse job fair” which would provide individuals with disabilities the opportunity to set-up a table for local businesses to “shop” for their job needs and provide both school-supported and coached-supported job opportunities.

The creation of a direct line of communication between the Waterloo School District and Waterloo businesses was also suggested. This would enable businesses to update school when possible job opportunities become available and school would in turn provide businesses with information on what individuals with disabilities are looking for potential employment.

It was also suggested that a possible Waterloo Chamber of Commerce event could showcase potential work programs.

Looking into job functions and job needs, reaching out and educating more businesses, networking with school and businesses and having parent volunteers present in the work place were all suggestions on how to continue to support and encourage individuals with disabilities.

“There’s a huge percentage of people that are in human resources, marketing, CFOs, CEOs, that once they learn about what they didn’t know, they’re going to want to go out and talk about it and they are going to want to encourage other businesses (and ask) ‘why are you not hiring this untapped work force?’” said Brian Kenney, Cooperative Educational Service Agency 2 and Transition Improvement Grant representative, in regards to hiring individuals with disabilities.

Information and feedback from the community conversation will be reviewed by Kalscheuer and Dettmer and communication with local businesses on possible employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities will continue in the future. The next Waterloo School District community conversation is slated for the summer of 2020.

“I am totally impressed. I cannot say how amazing it is that Waterloo businesses and families have had this turnout here today and the things that you are interested in and the direction you are willing to go is amazing,” said Dettmer.

Additional information and questions regarding ways to increase community-based employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities may be directed to Dettmer at dettmerc@waterloo.k12.wi.us or at 920-478-3633, ext. 2054.

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