ST. CLAIRSVILLE - Employees at the Belmont County Board of Developmental Disabilities work daily to ensure their clients receive "choice, respect and opportunity" as members of society.
Now, Superintendent Steve Williams and his staff are emphasizing a new initiative known as "Employment First" that they believe will allow those with disabilities to explore their dreams.
"We should not have a preconceived notion that having a developmental disability means you cannot work," Williams said. "Our success is to see these folks be included in their communities - removing the barriers."
Photo by Casey Junkins
Kara Shutler, transition coordinator at the Belmont County Board of Developmental Disabilities, left, confers with Pam Tomich, service and support administrator, about a client’s work program.
According to the agency, Employment First is a concept to help those with the most significant disabilities integrate themselves into the work force. The program promotes the idea that a job helps people build "social capital" - the trusting relationships that result in support for one another.
Although this is a new strategy, the agency has worked to help those with disabilities gain more opportunities than they would have in past years.
"We want the people we serve to have what they want," said Communications Coordinator Pamela McCort. "We use person-centered planning, one person at a time."
The agency served about 500 people during 2012. It is not directly affiliated with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
Williams said each county in Ohio is responsible for having a board to address disabilities. Roughly 66 percent of the organization's $8.6 million 2012 budget consists of locally generated tax dollars.
Williams and McCort firmly believe those diagnosed with disabilities such as autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, fetal alcohol syndrome, learning disabilities, traumatic brain injuries and other conditions should have every chance to succeed rather than be relegated to a life in isolation.
"We get excited when one of them gets a job," Williams said. "For others, we get excited when they have a stable home situation."
However, for those who need a more regulated environment, Williams said the county still offers Belco Works - formerly known as Belco Crafts - as a place of employment. There is also the Tomorrow's Corner adult day care center, as well as the TEAM (Together Everyone Achieves More) Consulting Center for developmentally disabled adults.
"We know that working at a regular job will not work for everyone, but they deserve the opportunity," Williams said.
For more information on the board, call 740-695-0233 or go to www.bcbdd.org.