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Happy New Year, Happy New You!

After finishing my run at the local YMCA, I walked over to the matted area to stretch. Stretching has become an important post-run activity for a guy who is getting as old as I am. I need to do this to keep the old muscles and joints flexible and ward off potential injuries. Anyway, as I was engaged in a series of stretching routines my attention was distracted by a bulletin board hanging on the wall in front of me. The bulletin board displayed an important message for the Y’s customers. It read–

2009 Happy New Year, Happy New You!

Forget the Resolutions.
Make the Change!
Your body will change when it is challenged to change.

You know, I'm always amused at how crowded it gets at the YMCA during the first week of January each year. The facility gets over-populated with all of these well-intentioned people who made New Year’s Resolutions to get their bodies back into shape. And slowly but inevitably, the Y’s daily census goes down visibly with each passing week. By the time the end of February rolls around, we seem to have the same old crowd working out and the Y's facilities return to normal levels of activity.
It’s just not easy to make a real change such as fitting regular exercise into your schedule unless you're fully committed. And so I thought this message displayed by the Y’s staff contained pearls of wisdom for these newcomers! Changing old habits is easy prey to good intentions. But making real changes means adopting a new way of thinking and behaving. The Nike Shoe folks put it simply and succinctly– Just do it!
I got to thinking about how this wisdom also applies to the work we do in this business of disability and employment. There's sure a lot of talk about placing more youth and adults with significant disabilities into the workforce. And there's a lot of posturing and going through the motions by the management of schools and disability organizations about rebalancing programs and increasing the percentage of participants who obtain integrated jobs at competitive wages and benefits.
With every passing year, we hear more annual resolutions from organizations about the need to expand choices, identify signature skills sets, individualize service plans, and increase competitive employment and wages. Yet somehow these annual resolutions and long range plans seem to fade slowly to far and distant dreams. And most organizations never really change all that much in their structure or capacities to deliver on the promise.
Most disability organizations run into inevitable obstacles trying to transform their Vision into workable daily practices. And many who express an interest to move toward substantial organizational changes often fail because they bow to internal and external pressures of "backfilling." That is, they remain open to Policies and practices of replacing individual workers who leave their facilities with new candidates. This "slot" or "capacity" mentality is not congruent with person-centered values and service practices.
Backfilling practices are also common in secondary education programs serving youth and young adults with disabilities. For example, many schools have adopted the strategy of developing jobs in the workforce that are set aside as transferable or reusable "training slots." This strategy may offer time-limited work experiences for some youth but assuredly this strategy does not lead to individualized, strengths-based employment outcomes.
Each time a backfilling transaction occurs, it resets the organization's systems change schedule. Further, such practices are self-defeating because they fail to close the gap in rebalancing a school's or organization's progress in obtaining real jobs at competitive wages and benefits for all.
Achieving real organizational change requires vision, leadership, and a clear plan of action. However, rebalancing the direction of a school or organization also requires a steadfast discipline to stay the course. This means resisting inevitable temptations to yield to quick fix solutions. It also means managing real challenges associated with developing competitive jobs in a poor economic climate. Be sure of this–lack of discipline will result in loss of focus, redirection of fiscal resources, misdirection of staff energies, and a weakened sense of urgency in moving toward systems change goals.
For these reasons, adopting "employment-first" values and service strategies can help to keep an organization on the right track. Employment-first strategies are crafted to reset service expectations and redesign policies and practices to break this cycle of inertia. Organizations truly committed to an employment-first vision will break through shallow resolutions and adopt new strategies in service delivery design, policies, and practices.
In sum, realizing significant changes in organizational behavior requires a new vision and blueprint for change that is rooted in firm discipline. Practically speaking, this means redesigning service policies so new applicants such as transition-aged youth are guided directly to options in the community's workforce. This also means engaging new program practices to challenge the status quo and permanently reduce the numbers of individuals who are supported in center-based employment and non-work options. Finally, this means increasing job placement initiatives and incrementally reducing the census of center-based programs by creating new policies and not backfilling positions.

As we enter calendar year 2009, I would like to offer a New Year’s message to my readers:

Forget the Resolutions.
Make the Change!
Your organization’s service outcomes will change when they are challenged to change!
And your outcomes will be challenged to change when your vision, mission, objectives, policies, budgets, staff roles, partnerships, and practices are realigned to support the development and creation of integrated jobs in the workforce.

Happy New Year, Happy New You!

This post first appeared on A New Vision: What If We Lived In A World Where Disabilities Become Possibilities?, please read the originial post: here

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Happy New Year, Happy New You!


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