Countless plastic bags and black boxes surround Nick Frey, 42, inside a building in Fort Worth.
He is focused on his job. Earlier today, Frey and his colleagues spent the morning making BollÃ© glasses.
Frey works in assembly and packaging at My Health My Resources (MHMR) of the Tarrant County Adult Day Empowerment Center. The organization provides services, including employment, to people living with intellectual or developmental disabilities.
An intellectual disability is a condition that can lead to limitations in intellectual or cognitive functioning. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines developmental disabilities as “a group of conditions that are caused by impairment in physical, learning, language or behavior.”
Frey has held several positions within MHMR. However, he has career goals, and one of them is the chance to work in a grocery store. He enjoys helping people with their groceries and collecting baskets.
âI love my job,â Frey said. âI work hard. I earn money.
Discrimination at work
The US Census Bureau reported that more than 200,000 people in Tarrant County lived with a disability in its 2019 American Community Survey.
State law and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protect people with disabilities from discrimination.
Ted Evans, staff attorney at Disability Rights Texas, said employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to workers. Evans said the advocacy organization has seen some clients struggle to obtain reasonable accommodations after they are hired, including during the COVID-19 pandemic.
âIn reality, a big part of what keeps someone from accessing a job is that the environment has been adapted for people without disabilities,â Evans said.
Disability Rights Texas and other advocates have worked to push more employers to pay people with disabilities at least minimum wage. The Fair Labor Standards Act allows some employers to pay less than the minimum wage to people with disabilities, full-time students, and those in vocational training.
A 2016 report from Disability Rights Texas found that many people with disabilities did not have the opportunity to have a job to develop their skills, with some employers miscalculating wages. The report also found that some people with disabilities were isolated from their co-workers.
In 2019, Governor Greg Abbott signed a law that requires contractors in the state to pay at least minimum wage. However, Evans said some employers in Texas are still paying below minimum wage.
âThere was a woman I spoke to who had been at a minimum wage facility since before the ADA and they really didn’t know there was reasonable accommodation,â Evans said.
Want a chance to work
Listeners. Protective glasses. Cape and gloves.
Derrick Jones, 41, gets to work shredding documents at MHMR. Jones started working in document destruction in 2013. Jones said he enjoys his job and hopes to save some money to buy gifts for his family.
âFive days a week,â Jones said. “This is what I need.”
MHMR’s Adult Day Empowerment Program provides people with intellectual and developmental disabilities the chance to socialize, learn life skills, volunteer in the community, and other activities.
The program offers multiple employment opportunities to clients who wish to work. MHMR social workers work with clients to understand their needs. During the process, a person can be placed in the employment program according to their goals and skills.
Clients can work in the community or within MHMR’s ABG Solutions program. The ABG Solutions program provides clients with part-time minimum wage employment. ABG jobs include document destruction, assembly and packaging, and sales services.
Teddi barry, Senior Director of Disability Services at MHMR, saw the impact of employment on clients.
âPeople feel more valued when they have the ability to really produce and earn a salary,â Barry said. âThey feel like they’ve really succeeded.
Source America and New Hope Academy, a Fort Worth nonprofit, helped MHMR customers get the opportunity to do assembly and packaging work for BollÃ©. The company manufactures safety and sports glasses.
MHMR clients can receive help finding employment in the community and take courses to learn skills such as money management and interviewing.
âThey taught me to read and count money,â Frey said.
More job opportunities needed
Currently, 25 to 30 people participate in the ABG Solutions program from MHMR. Barry said more jobs are needed to provide opportunities for clients.
âIt’s something that we’re really aiming for, to increase the number of jobs that we have here for people,â Barry said.
The Texas Workforce Commission said in a 2020 statewide comprehensive needs assessment report that more work is needed to help people in underserved communities. The board’s statewide vocational rehabilitation program helps people with disabilities find and keep employment.
In its report, the agency found that there were 219,000 people in its vocational rehabilitation program and only 60% of the participants achieved the desired employment outcome.
Some of the underserved populations that still needed help were:
- Those who are 55 years of age or over and are unemployed.
- People who need supported employment to find their first job.
- People who want to develop their career.
- People living outside metropolitan areas.
- Students from rural and disadvantaged school districts.
Texas Workforce Commission Vocational Rehabilitation Program: 512-936-6400
This story was originally published December 17, 2021 at 5.30 am.