Andy: Family Initiative and Involvement

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Background

Andy Owens works in the price task force department at Powell's City of Books in Portland, Oregon. He is driven and committed to doing anything he sets his mind to. Andy has cerebral palsy and can operate a computer by using a head switch. With this technology, he is able to scan and price books. In addition to his own determination, Andy's employment success was due to the involvement of family members who advocated for him at school, led an employment-planning process, and continue to support Andy on the job.

What's Important

When Andy was two years away from completing high school, he made it clear to his mother that he would like to work. As a result, his mother promoted the idea of having Andy participate in school-based work experiences. Some of the work experiences Andy had were delivering teachers' mail and helping in the library.

Encouraged by these successes, Andy and his family wanted to look for a job in the community. The family applied for Careers, Community and Family, a program that taught them how to set up a person-centered planning meeting, and how to put the ideas generated by the meeting into action. Andy and his family organized a meeting that included everyone Andy knew well. At the meeting, they developed a list of types of jobs Andy would like to do. They also listed supports he would need in order to succeed. These included a power wheelchair he could control independently, a communication device that could interface with other technology, and a professional job developer.

At the start of the next school year, Andy and his family met with the school district and presented their ideas, requesting funding for a job developer. The school district approved their request because they presented such a clear plan. Next, Andy and his mother established a team that would address his mobility and communication needs. After that, Andy and his family began working with a job developer. They felt that Andy would be more successful with responsibilities that could be carved out from an existing job, and in a position that could accommodate his use of technology.

Powell's City of Books was one of several employers they approached. The manager of Powell's wanted Andy to scan and price books. Andy's father programmed Andy's DynaVox computer, which Andy operated with a head switch, to interface with the Powell's computers. They used a conveyor belt to move the books, and positioned the store's scanning machine so that Andy could independently scan and price the books and enter them into inventory. Powell's collaborated with Andy's father to set up this system and test it before Andy finished school and began work.

Meanwhile, Andy's family again approached the school district to request an extended school year through the summer so Andy could continue to receive transition services. That way, Andy could receive one-on-one training and learn to use the new technology at the bookstore.

What Happened

Andy started his job at Powell's in June of 2001 and has been there ever since. He does his job 90% independently, and has an assistant to put price stickers on the books and to provide personal care. His family remains involved in his progress, and his father has made adjustments over the years to the technology Andy uses. Andy and his family are very happy with his work situation. His mother believes that the job at Powell's was worth the family's effort. Andy enjoys doing meaningful work and interacting with his colleagues.

Lessons Learned

  • Committed families can contribute time, skills, and other valuable resources to the employment process. Andy's mother advocated for him at school, and his father helped develop on-the-job supports.
  • Employment professionals and family members should build a partnership that capitalizes on the strengths of each. Family members are often experts in an individual's skills and support needs. Employment professionals offer job-development techniques that can bring a family's employment goals to fruition.

For more information, contact:
Cynthia Owens cynthia.owens@gmail.com