You can tell a lot about a DD agency by how they treat their disabled employees.
There are only a few developmental disability agencies in the area. In California, there’s tons of agencies. Here, I only know of the in my local area. I only have experience with two. Both of them employ some people with developmental disabilities. But they couldn’t possibly do it more differently.
Walking into one office, I saw a man with a developmental disability delivering the mail. He had a staff person with him directing him where to go. He clearly — very clearly, from the standpoint of someone with similar problems — had a movement disorder that made it hard for him to stop going in a direction once he’d started. So he bumped into things and people a lot. He bumped into me.
His staff person immediately started shouting at him and demanding that he apologize to me and pay more attention to where he was going and on and on and on. He just stood there looking more and more upset. I knew, and he knew, that there was nothing he could’ve done different. And that was only one of many such incidents I saw there. Disabled employees were not considered the same as nondisabled employees at all.
Then I went into this other DD agency. It was an agency that helped DD people with two things: Self-directing our own care (something I was looking into), and finding gainful employment. So maybe it made sense that they’d be different. Or maybe not. I don’t know.
All I know is that every time I walked into the place, I saw a woman with a developmental disability answering the phones, typing at the computer, and doing all the work a secretary normally does, without any indication that she was any different from the nondisabled secretaries.
That told me that this agency was serious about their mission to find employment for disabled people. And also that they truly respected us. They never talked down to me. If I came in unexpectedly, they would drop everything and come talk to me about what I needed.
I didn’t end up going self-managed with my care, although I still might do that someday. But I have to say that I was incredibly impressed by the difference in the two agencies. This isn’t the first time that I’ve seen such a difference between agencies, reflected in how they treat disabled employees. And this all happened years and years ago.
But I thought people should know that this is something you should look for, if you’re scoping out agencies to give you disability services: If there are disabled employees, how are they treated? Do they seem like just another employee, or are they treated like “clients” who just happen to be doing work (worse still if it’s “make-work”) in the office? Do they get publicly humiliated if they make mistakes, including mistakes that they clearly can’t help making? If they have a job coach or another staff person assisting them, does that person seem to be basically running their life, or are they providing assistance in a respectful way so that the person can do their job? Is there constant tension in the air between the DD person and their job coach? Does the job coach get on their case for things that aren’t even problems (like rocking, quietly humming, etc.) while nondisabled people get to be much louder, much more disruptive, and nobody treats them badly for it?
It’s things like that that can tell you a lot about an agency without them even knowing what they’re showing you.