Customized Employment Helped Me Get a Job I Love
Every day, many people apply for jobs they are interested in, and many are lucky enough to get them. Often though, people with a disability are not lucky enough to even be considered for jobs they might like and be good at because they might not be able to do every single part of a job description. That is where Customized Employment comes in.
My name is Brian Salewski, and my disability is on the autism spectrum. I recently had the opportunity to read a statement at a Department of Labor forum in Washington, D.C. about my experiences trying to get a paying job over the past 12 years, because the successful use of Customized Employment finally helped me to get the kind of job I wanted.
I graduated from Montgomery County MD Public Schools Special Education programs at age 21 with a certificate. During my high school and through graduation, I received job training that included office skills, such as data entry, filing, and bulk mailing, as well as other office skills, which I enjoyed. When my family and I picked a service provider agency to help me find employment, we made it clear that my first choice would be to get a job as an office assistant.
Through many years with this agency, I worked pretty much full-time, 9:00-4:00, five days a week at two different locations, but always as a volunteer. I performed various jobs such as pick-up and delivery of lab samples, making visitor badges, doing data entry for the cafeteria, recording everyone’s hours for Volunteer Services, copying, escorting patients, delivering items to hospital wards, and other jobs as assigned. I was happy to have a position that kept me busy all week, but I always reminded my job developers that I wanted a paying job.
Despite making my wishes clear, I was offered very few interviews for paying jobs over several years. Instead of working on job skills that would help me get the kind of job I wanted, I was sent to dust shelves and even to rake leaves at a farm…even though the goals on my annual review specifically said I should be training for an office job. At one point, I agreed to study to become a library page. I passed the test twice, but I wasn’t set up with interviews at libraries, even though that still was a formal goal on my annual review.
I switched agencies last August because my parents and I were very frustrated with the total lack of progress toward my goals. My new agency seemed to listen to us much more. We talked about many job possibilities, but they understood that my real goal was getting a job as an office assistant. At the new agency, I worked on computers, practiced interview skills, attended practice sessions about how to converse in an office, and how to speak to a supervisor if I had questions or needs. I liked that I was working on skills that might help me get the kind of job I wanted.
This agency used Customized Employment to help prepare me for that. After only four months, the opportunity came up for me to interview for an office assistant position. My job developer helped me apply. I practiced interview skills with staff and even brought home sample questions so I could practice at home. I was called for an interview at the Finance Department of Montgomery County Health and Human Services, which also used Customized Employment to create a job opportunity for a person with a disability….like me. I was asked back for a second interview and got the job, which I began the first week of February — only six months from the time I joined my new agency. That’s quite a difference from 12 years with no Customized Employment and no job offers!
At my job, I do archiving, make copies, do filing, move boxes, and I learned to scan documents. I hope to learn other new skills and am willing and able to try anything. I have an excellent memory, am very reliable and responsible, and learn very quickly, but somehow it still took over 12 years for me to get a paying job. All I needed was a chance and the right match, and I am so happy that I finally got that.
I like the people I work with, the jobs I do, having responsibility and working independently. Best of all, I like that I have a paying job and feel very proud when I print out my pay slip every two weeks. I received travel training, which only took one trip for me to learn, and I get to and from work independently on the bus. I have had to wait a long time for the kind of job I wanted and always knew I could do, and I am very happy to have this position. Customized Employment is described as a “win-win” situation; it helped me get a job I love, and my employer got a person who can do a specific job very well, if I say so myself. You can’t beat that!
Brian Salewski is a 35-year old life-long resident of Montgomery County MD. Prior to beginning his current job, which is part-time, he volunteered full-time, five days a week; first at Brooke Grove Retirement Community in Sandy Spring, MD; then at MedStar Montgomery Medical Center in Olney, MD, where he still volunteers two days a week. Brian has an active lifestyle, participating in softball, tennis and basketball for Montgomery County MD Special Olympics. His softball and basketball teams have both won several state gold medals, and he has twice participated in Special Olympics USA Games and won gold medals in traditional men’s tennis and doubles tennis both times. Brian belongs to a weekly bowling group and an organized social group in which he goes to plays, dances, bingo nights, etc. He also participates in weekly social activities with his service provider agency. Brian takes guitar lessons, loves amusement parks, the beach, movies, and going to Nationals baseball games. He lives at home with his parents and his twin brother in Olney, MD.