5 Things You Learn Finding Jobs For The 'Unemployable'
Before I was the guy with early-onset Alzheimer's, I worked for a company that helped other people with their disabilities -- interviewing them, evaluating them, helping them get and hold down jobs, and only occasionally being assaulted by them. During my time working with, around, or running from the mentally disabled, I learned ...
The Disabled Can Be Exploited As Wage Slaves
My clients, as we call them, were usually very low-functioning young adults. Most companies don't want to hire them, but some are all too willing. See, disabled workers fall under an exception to the minimum wage law, and can be paid as little as one shiny quarter for every hour they work in some places. This loophole goes back to 1938, when it was used to encourage companies to hire veterans. Now it's used to hire all sorts of people with disabilities, occasionally earning major criticism from the groups advocating on their behalf. The company that most famously landed in hot water over this was Goodwill, when it came out that they pay some workers effectively 22 cents an hour (while the CEO makes over $1 million a year). So there's one answer on how to get the disabled into the workplace: slavery!
Apparently, there weren't enough profits to pay minimum wage at the store whose entire inventory was free.
Since slavery is not often considered "the ideal solution," there's another: Subsidize the employment of the disabled so that the business pays only part of the wage, with the government picking up the rest. It works pretty well. Employers get cheap labor, and clients both contribute to society and earn a somewhat livable wage at the same time. Only folks who have bumper stickers that contain some form of the phrase "my tax dollars" plastered all over their pickup trucks are unhappy with this deal.
And make no mistake, the disabled can contribute, with a little help from a person whose entire job is to match their skills and abilities to a suitable occupation. (Hi!) For example, I had a client with an IQ of 70 and obsessive-compulsive disorder. She got a job in a sports store when, without any prompting, she arranged all the hats in order according to team, even though she couldn't write the alphabet. Instead of throwing her out of the store, the owners said, "Huh, that's a way better system than our old one, which was 'in descending order of how good their mascots would taste.' You're going places, kid!"
It was the highest ranking for the Sacramento Kings in a decade.
Scammers Target Programs For The Disabled All The Time
Most people are simply looking for the chance to work despite their very real disability, but some see the opportunity to scam programs like this as a ticket to A) Hell, and B) easy money.
"Wait, you did what?! I mean, I guess I have to take you, but holy shit."
So my duties also included performing a few simple tests to catch the cheaters early on. For instance, lots of folks report debilitating back pain. While interviewing them, I'd drop my wallet or a pen to the ground. Many of these alleged back-pain sufferers would quickly reach for it without straining, and boom, we'd have ourselves a liar exposed. I had one client who spent the entire testing session on his couch, claiming he couldn't move, but when his 80-pound dog started to pee on his rug, he instantly jumped up, picked up the mutt, and took it outside.
"My mom was a service dog. I couldn't let him keep getting away with it."
Aside from faking disability, I had a few clients with a history of alcohol abuse, and they'd swear up and down they didn't even use mouthwash anymore. But I'd walk up to their house to find a trashcan filled with nothing but empty Budweiser cans. Maybe "The Tap Water of Beer" makes for a good adhesive remover or something. But then, at the end of the interview, I'd ask for something to drink, and the clients would happily fetch a beer from the fridge, apparently believing nothing they said or did counted after the interview was over. What's a little booze between a recovering alcoholic and the person tasked to confirm their recovery?
The Stress Of The Testing Can Trigger Scary And Violent Behavior
At our initial meetings with a client, we administer a battery of tests designed to assess their IQ, reading, math, and practical skills. These tests are also designed to stress clients out, because holding a job is stressful, and we have to see if they can handle it. Some people can't. A few cases that come to mind were all ex-military personnel suffering from PTSD. They were used to either commanding or taking orders in high-stakes situations -- not having idiot civilians ask them how well they can add. It made them feel like failures, worthless, or insulted.
"I was in charge of helicopters worth more than our lifetime earnings combined."
"Understands financial math: check."
One of these guys threatened to shoot me. He got frustrated and felt that I was trying to push him over the edge (which is partially true, as I just explained). He asked for a bathroom break in the middle of a test, and then said he was coming back with a Beretta, telling me to get out of his house and never come back. A second person pulled out a knife. He too had been diagnosed with PTSD and paranoia. Before the real testing even began, he got frustrated with answering the familiar, annoying psych questions, and he grabbed a big-ass knife out of his kitchen and waved it at me 'til I fled. Which I did with both verve and vigor -- I'm not fighting a Marine on his best day, much less one where he skipped his medication.
"This person is not able to work until they receive proper therapy," said my evaluation of these folks.
That's bureaucrat speak for "may get stabby."
Even The Insane Need Jobs, And I Find Them
Some clients are delusional in the "everyone but me is a lizard person" way. That's only kind of a joke. One client had a particular phobia that meant a fear of all humans. I had to accommodate this. I sat on the porch while the client sat indoors, and we passed the tests back and forth through the mail slot. It was difficult, because a lot of my job involved observation, but we made do. Whatever these people believed or what conditions they had, it was not my job to judge them. I was there simply to find some kind of work they could do.
"I'll go ahead and cross 'Parade Grand Marshal' off the list."
My single weirdest encounter was with a person who saw dead people. She saw auras around her visitors, and even spoke to a ghost while I was in the room. Again, it didn't matter if I believed her, if the psychologist believed her, or if an actual ghost magically appeared and wrote her a stunning letter of recommendation on the spot. It wasn't my place to do anything except determine what they could do, find work for them, and maybe get them some kind of life back. And I did -- ghost girl had computer skills and now works in customer service. Maybe not the most exciting way a Sixth Sense sequel could play out, but I'm counting it as a win.
You Can Change People's Lives
To be clear, I'm not a social worker. My job is only to evaluate people for employment. And yet I still ended up having to get some people out of bad home situations, if only because no one else seemed to bother. I had one guy, an ex-football player, now paralyzed, who lived on a couch with no privacy in a two-bedroom apartment with half a dozen family members. That interview took about nine hours with all the interruptions. His younger siblings, I found out, regularly pulled "pranks" like loosening his bed so it would collapse or pulling out his catheter and colostomy hoses so he'd piss all over the place. His family didn't tend to him at all -- he'd sit there and starve until his nurse arrived. We got him moved into a care facility, and he worked from there answering phones in customer service. Customer service may not be the most glamorous job, but it's not a literal shithole, so there's another win.
Phone customers can get angry, but at least they can't screw with your bathroom gear through a headset.
One man tested at a third-grade level and lived in a very rural area. Yet the guy was well-known in his little town for fixing friends' and families' farm equipment, cars, or anything mechanical. He'd even built himself his own ATV out of lawnmower parts.
Meanwhile, half of you reading this couldn't start one without a YouTube tutorial.
He was a backwoods MacGyver, so I found him a job working ten hours a week at an auto shop. When I last checked up on him, he was enrolled in a tech school and getting his own mechanic's license. I see signs for his very own little repair shop whenever I'm in the area.
Another guy was interested in selling insurance, but he was blind and had no training. I got him a job bagging at a supermarket, which isn't the worst job in the world, but a far cry from his dream. Then, about a year and a half ago, I got a knock on my door. It was a door-to-door life insurance salesman ... who was blind. Yep, same guy. He remembered my voice and told me his story. He used that bagging job to save up some money, got his license, and was now making a good living in his dream job. Why that was selling insurance is anybody's guess, but hey, it takes all kinds of folks to make the world go 'round.
Kevin is now dealing with his early-onset Alzheimer's, and you can visit his GoFundMe page to help out. Follow Ryan on Twitter for stuff cut from this article and other things no one should see. Details about the cases featured here have been altered to protect clients' privacy.
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For more insider perspectives, check out 6 Lessons I Learned At A Home For Mentally Disabled Adults and 5 Brutal Reasons 75% Of Special Ed Teachers Quit.
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