By: Amy Cavalier, Communications/Development Coordinator
DePaul’s WorkGuide program is now serving an increasing number of clients who are deaf, hard of hearing or using American Sign Language (ASL). The program was recently selected as the primary referral source for clients formerly served through the Rochester School for the Deaf’s (RSD) PRIDE program.
“It’s a testament to the work we do that Adult Career and Continuing Education Services-Vocational Rehabilitation (ACCES-VR) came to DePaul over other agencies to assume operation of the program,” said Director of DePaul’s WorkGuide Chris Tolhurst. “We already have a good track record of finding people jobs and careers.”
The fifteen clients already enrolled in the program have begun being served by DePaul, and new referrals are coming in according to Fiona Osier, Assistant Director of WorkGuide. Some clients are working with their vocational counselors to reassess their interests and skill set and develop their resumes to begin the job search process, while others have been seeking additional hours.
In order to accommodate this new demographic, several WorkGuide Vocational Counselors are learning sign language.
“It not only helps them coach our clients, it also helps them facilitate communication between the deaf or hard of hearing individual and their employer,” said Tolhurst.
WorkGuide Vocational Counselor Debbie Holihan began taking ASL classes offered through DePaul this year. She said the courses have been practical and useful in working with former PRIDE clients and new referrals.
“It’s a definitely a challenge learning a new language,” she said. “It takes a lot of practice and repetition. The best practice has been just talking with consumers.”
Holihan communicates with clients using a combination of ASL, text messages and hand-written notes. She said it’s not all that different from working with a hearing client.
In addition to working with clients, WorkGuide Vocational Counselors work with the employers ensuring their needs are being met. WorkGuide employers may receive tax credits for hiring individuals with disabilities.
In addition, there is a Work Tryout Program that may provide up to four weeks of wage reimbursement to the employer in the event they need to provide additional job training to a WorkGuide client.
“We want to make sure it’s a good match for the employee and that it makes business sense for the employer,” said Osier.
Once a client has obtained employment, the WorkGuide job coaches accompany the client to their job to help them learn the responsibilities expected of them. Interpreters are initially utilized, but the goal is to help the employer and WorkGuide client decide how they will communicate after the interpreter is gone.
“It’s really amazing, if everyone is making an effort, how easily you can communicate and I think the employers realize that too,” said Tolhurst.
In the 2012 contract year, WorkGuide connected clients with over 100 jobs. WorkGuide could also serve residents of DePaul’s Rochester View Apartments now being developed, that will offer enhanced supports to accommodate tenants who may be deaf, hard of hearing or who use ASL, to be located in Henrietta, New York.