People frequently contact the Meadows to see if we are currently hiring individuals with intellectual challenges. Unfortunately, as much as we wish we could, the answer is NO.
We would love to increase our workforce and offer jobs to more men and women with disabilities – but, sadly, we believe that, for several different reasons that are beyond our control, it is not appropriate at this time.
For one thing, Oklahoma’s legislators appear to be hopelessly mired in petty politics, and that is preventing them from reaching any type of long-term solution to the severe funding issues facing our state. Lobbyists representing several major industries have the money that politicians crave and that is taking the focus off of the funding for those who are in need but who are too often not heard.
However, even if the worst happens and the Meadows eventually loses government funding, we will be able to survive. We have an established business that can sustain us at our present level. None of the people we currently employ will lose their jobs.
But that is not the case for other nonprofits like ours. Some of them will be forced to close their doors and the people who depend on them for a job will be unemployed.
That is heartbreaking and unacceptable.
Those individuals have overcome tremendous obstacles in order to be successfully employed, and now there is the chance that all of that will be taken away from them by bureaucrats who have no idea of how difficult it is for someone with a developmental disability to find a job.
Another serious problem we face regarding the government is their belief that a workshop setting is no longer a viable employment option for people with intellectual challenges. They feel that each individual, regardless of their personal circumstances, should be forced to work in the community.
We strongly disagree with that opinion.
While we are certainly in favor of individuals participating in community employment whenever that is possible, it is not always a realistic goal for people who require close monitoring for health or behavior issues.
Organizations like the Meadows offer a safe and supportive setting that allows men and women to engage in meaningful work who would otherwise be excluded from the job market.
The government’s refusal to acknowledge that every person deserves to work – not just those who can be employed in the community – is both disturbing and harmful in the sense that it is preventing us from hiring more individuals who have the right to a job.
And as if all of that wasn’t enough, the government is now saying that the people with intellectual challenges who are already successfully employed at the Meadows should be moved into community jobs - and they are backing up this demand with the threat that federal funding will be pulled from any organization that is not compliant.
It is impossible to comprehend that kind of thinking.
The government actually wants to take away the jobs of people who have been employed with us for ten, twenty or thirty years. They want to force them into community jobs which, for a significant number of them, will not be appropriate and will, therefore, leave them unemployed.
And, incredibly, the government is holding us responsible for these new community jobs. They are expecting the Meadows to interrupt our employees’ work day, which means their pay stops while they are out of the building, so they can be taken into the community to try and find them a job when they already have one. And, once again, if we do not comply we lose funding.
This possibility is being raised in IP meetings and our families are becoming increasingly upset to think that the government is trying to take away the jobs, that in many cases, their loved ones have had for decades.
If you stop and think about it, it’s inconceivable that any other type of business would be expected to find different jobs for the people they already employ.
But when it comes to individuals with intellectual challenges, the government has a double standard.
For the men and women we work with, having a job at the Meadows is an important part of their lives. It gives them the opportunity to develop both vocational skills and social skills. It helps them build their self-esteem as they grow in confidence. It gives them a sense of responsibility, and it allows them to earn a paycheck.
We wish we could extend this same opportunity to other people who deserve to work - but at this point in time, we can’t.
For all of the reasons listed above, we have no choice but to maintain a hiring freeze.
Until a determination is made on government funding going forward, and until our elected officials stop interfering with people’s lives, we cannot hire more men and women with disabilities.
We hope for the benefit of everyone concerned that this is a temporary situation - but, unfortunately, when money and politics are involved it seems that those who are vulnerable suffer the most.