Published: July 26, 2022
Bridgewell is celebrating the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, or ADA, a guiding force behind its services in offering equal opportunities for people with disabilities.
Signed July 26, 1990, by President George H.W. Bush, the ADA is a civil rights law prohibiting discrimination against individuals with disabilities in different areas of public life, including employment. This law ensures equal opportunities and rights for all, including those with disabilities. Two years after signing, Title I of the ADA, which became effective on July 26, 1992, prohibited employment discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities.
For the past three decades, Bridgewell’s Employment Program has worked with hundreds of people with developmental disabilities and autism on employment skills, job placement and coaching services. Many changes have occurred over the last 30 years and Bridgewell has embraced the opportunities the ADA offered, changing lives like Eric Nardone’s.
This spring, Nardone celebrated 30 years of employment with Bridgewell, receiving direct career support to help him build new skills and open doors to employment opportunities. “Eric joined the employment program in 1990,” said Milena Sarrette, Assistant Program Manager at Bridgewell.
“We’ve been working with Meals on Wheels deliveries, and local colleges to work on various projects – so his role has always involved going to offsite group employment locations with a career coach and building his skills.”
Current and past Bridgewell employment partners include Gordon College, McDonalds, North Shore Navigators, Prides Deli & Pizzeria and many other local businesses. With support from Bridgewell’s program staff, Nardone found the right employment fit. “Over time, Eric worked his way up and he’s now in group employment. That’s what he likes and that’s what works for him,” said Sarrette.
Darren Goad, a Bridgewell career specialist, said, “One of the biggest changes I’ve seen over the years is that there’s no longer a sub-minimum wage for people with disabilities. Everybody is now paid an equally competitive wage.”
In July 2015, the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services (DDS) phased out all center-based, often called “sheltered” workshop employment to encourage individuals with disabilities to work in the community. Previously, piece-rate work would be delivered to a location, such as a day program, and participants would complete it there.
Goad noted that employment for people with disabilities is now community-based, and that employment in sheltered workshops and resource rooms is no longer the norm. “There’s now much more respect at a different level that people operate at when employing people with disabilities…that’s really changed. Our employment program at Bridgewell is a very good example of fostering that community integration.”
Goad reflected on how the ADA and Bridgewell’s opportunities have impacted Nardone’s life. “Eric is typically not at the Bridgewell employment building, he’s mostly working out in the community with his peers. Whether it’s accessing local community parks, museums, restaurants, or businesses, our employment program is geared toward giving those we serve opportunities to be engaged in the community, gaining more and more independence.”
Bridgewell’s model focuses on identifying career opportunities the employment program participants want to explore. Sarette said, “We go by what their visions are and what interests them, even with what they want to learn as an objective or a goal. We go through the steps and explore what their true interests are, then build skills and find employment opportunities based on those.”
Goad reflected, “We slow it down, let them explore and find the right thing – so it’s not about piece-rate work like it used to be. When people from our program go to work, they earn a fair wage. It doesn’t matter how quickly they progress to an employment opportunity, we focus on working with someone to help them realize their interests and personal worth.”
There is still much more support needed for those with disabilities in the community. In 2021, 10.1% of people with disabilities were unemployed, which was nearly double the 5.1% rate of those without disabilities. To help combat this, Bridgewell works to establish numerous career connections for people in its employment program.
Christopher Tuttle, President and CEO of Bridgewell, said “We honor the signing of ADA, which recognizes the great contributions that people with disabilities can make in their communities. At Bridgewell, it has enabled us to provide employment services and career opportunities for those we serve, inspiring hope and empowering them to reach their fullest potential – and to realize the dignity of meaningful work.”
If you are interested in becoming an employment partner, or to learn more about Bridgewell’s Employment Support Program, please contact Career Specialist Darren Goad at email@example.com or (339) 883-1757.