Frontline Initiative: Direct Support Professionals Supporting People's Employment
May I Check Your Boarding Pass?
Randy Roe checks passengers' boarding passes to ensure they get into the right line at the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport.
Brenda Albright has spent her whole career supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. For the last 15 years, she has supported people in their employment. Randy Roe is one of those people. Randy ran bins back and forth at the security gates when Brenda started work at the airport. This first job wasn’t the best fit for him. Over the years, the vendors who are the employers at the airport have changed, and so have Randy’s opportunities. Brenda has supported him in finding the job he is in now, which is the right fit for him. Randy and Brenda have developed a working relationship that works well, too. Randy has the stability of knowing that Brenda is there when he needs her, and Brenda really knows and understands Randy. Here is their story.
Tell me about your role at Lifeworks and how long you have worked there.
Brenda: I have been with Lifeworks for just over 15 years as a job coach. My primary job sites are at both Minneapolis-Saint Paul airports. The people I support work for the different companies that have contracts with the airport. The workplaces of the people I support are within the airport. My job includes going to the airport to check in with the people I support to see how things are going. I also provide support if someone is having a bad day. I serve as a liaison between the person I support and the company where they work. My role is to build that relationship and to make sure everyone is on the same page.
Tell me how long you have been working and a little bit about your current employment.
Randy: I have been with Lifeworks for almost 15 years. I have worked at the airport for 14 years. My first job there was to run the bins back and forth that people use to put their belongings in at security. I currently check boarding passes to see if the people have TSA [Transportation Security Administration] PreCheck or first-class.
Brenda: Randy is a front person and works as a line queue agent for IHS [International Handling Solutions]. When people get ready to walk onto their airplane, he checks their boarding passes. At the airport, contracts end and new companies take their place, so while Randy has been doing his job for many years, he has had different employers. Every time there is a new employer, Randy must reapply and interview for his job with the new employer. This has happened three or four times over the time Randy has worked there.
Since Randy has had to reapply for this job, how do you support him during this process?
Brenda: Since the applications are usually online, we get together and I support Randy in filling out the application. Then he gets ready for the interview by going over potential interview questions with me. Randy doesn’t need support knowing what to wear or any tips on grooming. I help Randy with reminders on how to stay calm and professional. I also talk to his guardian to make sure they know what is going on. I support Randy with transportation if necessary. Randy is comfortable sharing with his employer about his abilities, that he processes things differently, and that he has a job coach. I go to the interview with him, but he speaks for himself. I am there if he doesn’t understand the question; I can help explain it in a way that helps him to process the question. I never answer for him.
We talk through everything I need to know and make sure I understand. If I have questions, I ask her, and she finds out the answer if she doesn’t know.
When you are offered a job with a new company, how do you and Brenda work together to get you ready for the new employer?
Randy: Brenda goes over the new rules of what I can and can’t do in the new employer contract and how I get paid. We talk through everything I need to know. She helps to make sure I understand. If I have questions, I can ask her, and she finds out the answer if she doesn’t know.
Brenda: There is always onboarding and orientation for each new employer. For Randy, it is like starting a new job. I go to orientation with Randy, so that I also understand the policies and procedures, as well as how the new company works.
What is one of your employment goals?
Randy: My goal has been to make $15 per hour for a long time, and with my current company, I have surpassed it and expect a raise in the future. I had another goal of working Monday through Friday, and because of my seniority, those are the hours I work now.
Brenda: Hourly pay raises are based on performance, along with attendance and being on time. In 14 years, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of days Randy has missed work. One was the day his son was born. When he had trouble getting to work on time because of a transportation provider issue, he spoke up right away, and we found a good solution quickly. It is really important to Randy to be a dependable employee.
When employers change, have Randy’s supervisors also changed over the years? If so, how do you prepare for that change?
Brenda: I am notified that there is going to be a change in companies and supervisors, so I will meet with them and explain who I am and what Lifeworks’ role is. I explain my role in supporting Randy in his employment. I tell them about Randy and the jobs he has had at the airports. I talk with them about Randy’s strengths as an employee, like what a dependable and committed employee he is and those things that he struggles with. For example, he processes differently than a lot of other people, so he may not understand right away if given a new task or new way to do things. By including me prior to changes happening, I can work with Randy to process things in a way that works for him. Many employers are very receptive to working with us.
Randy: Brenda introduces me to the new supervisor so I can get to know them and tells me how that supervisor works.
I got a lot of text messages from Randy saying, “Brenda, please tell them to back off! I don’t need them here every day!”
If you were able to decrease the amount of support, how did you make that change and what does support look like now?
Brenda: Randy used to need a job coach to be with him all the time. Later that decreased to checking in with him at the job every day. Now I check in about three times a week using voice memo on our cell phones and/or in person. Randy knows he can reach me anytime he needs me. It really is the goal of a job coach to support the person to feel comfortable on the job and to back off when they are ready for less support. Randy is a good example of this. When I was off work for a little bit, and there was a substitute job coach in my place, I told the substitute they didn’t need to check on Randy every day, but they did anyway. I got a lot of text messages from Randy saying, “Brenda, please tell them to back off! I don’t need them here every day!”
Have you ever had difficulties at work with a co-worker? How does Brenda support you?
Randy: I used to be picked on, and then I told them, “Hey, I have a disability. I don’t feel good about how you are treating me.” Another time, I had a problem with one co-worker, and I was encouraged to go to my supervisor. I talked to Brenda, and she supported me, so I knew what I needed to say. I went to my supervisor, and the issue got taken care of.
Brenda: Sometimes, I just need to explain to others that Randy processes things differently. Taking the time to explain it helps them understand him more. Other times, he needs to talk to the supervisor. He feels more confident talking to his supervisor these days, so he will go ahead and address the issue with them. Then he often calls me and tells me what he did and what happened because he spoke up.
What does Brenda do to support you that has helped you succeed in your job?
Randy: She helps me out a lot, and I appreciate all the help I get. If I didn’t have something like Lifeworks, it would be terrible. I like having someone that I can ask to help me. I like being asked if I need anything. It is a great program.
Brenda: Because Randy has worked at the airport so long and he is such a good employee, he has a great relationship with his supervisor, who checks in with him every day. Randy feels comfortable joking around with and talking about more serious matters with his supervisor. Randy has cordial relationships with his co-workers, but the nature of the job doesn’t support much opportunity to develop friendships. His relationship with his supervisor is the most important one to him.
Have you ever met any famous people while you were working?
Randy: My co-workers encouraged me to say hello to Joan Rivers [a famous comedian]. I asked her if she needed help, and we had a little conversation. I told her that she was real nice. She thanked me and told me that I am a real nice guy, too! I also met George Foreman [a famous boxing champion] who lives in Minnesota.
What advice do you have for someone who is thinking of becoming an employment specialist or job coach?
Brenda: Be open and have an open mind. Think outside the box and be prepared for a job where no two days are the same.
It is important to really get to know the person you are supporting. If the person has a support team, get involved with that team. You will benefit by working closely with their team because you will learn from them. You will get to know valuable information about the areas where they shine and where they need help. That will help you communicate important information to the employer. In Randy’s situation, I have established a really good relationship with his employer, and we touch base with each other two or three times a week. Working together helps us all support Randy better.