Ensuring Access to Employment Support

Photo of Tanya, a person who partners with Lifeworks for Extended Employment support, with text that reads: "Ensuring Access to Employment Support".

For over 35 years, Lifeworks has connected people with disabilities to employment options that explore their interests, develop skills, and start or advance their careers. Lifeworks clients work in various fields and professions, including office administration, customer service, research and development, and some have even started their own businesses. Whether people with disabilities are just beginning to look for their first job or want to earn a promotion, Lifeworks offers the support they need to reach their goals.  

Extended Employment is a support option for individuals who already have a job or career, have a disability that impacts their daily living, and are looking for extra assistance at their current positions. Unlike traditional employment services, the State of Minnesota funds Extended Employment through a grant, allowing the service to be offered at no-cost to clients.  

When grant funding for Extended Employment started, the focus was on supporting people with autism in the workplace. Over the years, it has expanded to include more folks from the disability community who want to develop or improve their work skills, including social and interpersonal skills, time management, or conflict resolution. Since Extended Employment clients do not receive any waiver funding, they often do not have a case manager. “They have no big support system like some of the other people we serve, so that’s where we fit in and help in every way possible,” says Chelsea Garvin, the Team Manager for Career Navigation at Lifeworks. With funding provided by the grant, folks who may have no other options for support at their jobs can receive the assistance they need.  

Tanya lives in Mankato and has partnered with Lifeworks for Extended Employment support for three years. While working in retail, Tanya began working with Amy, a Lifeworks job coach. Her job at the time wasn’t the best fit for her. “Certain jobs I had a hard time understanding, and certain jobs didn’t pay enough, so I had to switch to a better job. But at that job, there was a problem with scheduling,” says Tanya. Tanya continued to experience barriers to her success at several jobs, but with Amy’s support, she continued searching for something that would best meet her needs while also receiving help to find solutions in the workplace. 

Photo of Tanya and Amy with a decorative border.After a few years of working with Amy and Lifeworks, Tanya found her stride in a role at Walgreens. “I started [last year] as a part-time person. In February, I got officially hired as a full-time employee.” Tanya has become confident with her responsibilities at Walgreens and has formed good connections with her coworkers. “Everybody is super supportive at Walgreens. All the people that I work with really help me,” Tanya shares. As she leans on the natural supports at work, Amy has adjusted her approach to supporting Tanya by saying, “I see her two or three times a month, just to check in and make sure she is satisfied and that Walgreens is satisfied.”  

Amy is now there to support Tanya as she needs. For Tanya, this is important to ensure she continues to feel successful at her job. “I’ve been doing things a little bit better on my own and also letting [Amy] know what’s going on,” she says. Tanya appreciates having a job for many reasons and is looking to grow in her position at Walgreens. “I am hoping to stay there for many years because having a job is really great. It pays well, and I work with a lot of people that are very supportive and positive towards me.” Amy has, “seen Tanya grow over these last couple of years. When I first started with her, her anxiety was pretty bad at [work]. It wasn’t the best environment for her. She has grown so much, and to be able to work up to the 30-some hours she’s working now is great to see.” 

I am hoping to stay there for many years because having a job is really great. It pays well, and I work with a lot of people that are very supportive and positive towards me.

What Tanya has experienced is what Chelsea and the Lifeworks Career Navigation Team hope everyone can achieve: “To have that independence, to feel comfortable, and to have developed some of those skills and to know where their resources are, and to know they can always come back!” Chelsea hopes Tanya’s success story will encourage others to consider Extended Employment. She emphasizes that anyone who has a job and has a disability and is finding that they could use a little extra support at work could benefit from partnering with Lifeworks. “We can help in an individualized, customized way to help them at their job, whether that’s hand-to-hand job coaching or working with supervisors to develop natural supports.”   

Photo of Chelsea with a decorative border.Lifeworks does not have a one size fits all approach, which has allowed this service to thrive. “Some of the biggest successes are folks that have graduated from the program and have built that independence and decided they don’t need us anymore,” says Chelsea. “As I was going through our list of clients, I was thinking, ‘Well, they’re not with us, and they’re not with us,’ and it’s because we did a great job, and that’s successful!” Having seen many people partner with Lifeworks through Extended Employment over the years, Chelsea recognizes just how important it is for our staff to meet each individual where they’re at and identify their specific goals and needs. “It doesn’t look the same for every single person coming into it, and I think that’s important. We really just want to be able to be there to help people keep their jobs or grow their jobs if they want. It’s up to them.” 

In providing this support to people with disabilities, Lifeworks also equips our communities to be more inclusive. Many workplaces are not fully accessible to workers with disabilities and often have barriers that prevent them from finding success. What Chelsea appreciates most about her role at Lifeworks is “changing perceptions in the community about the people we serve. I really like seeing people match with their individual job goals and their strengths to find employment that makes them happy and satisfied.”

I really like seeing people match with their individual job goals and their strengths to find employment that makes them happy and satisfied.

Chelsea and our Career Navigation Team want more people to get connected to Lifeworks to receive support through Extended Employment. Chelsea says getting started as a person with a disability is simple, “someone can walk in our door, and as long as we can get documentation of disability, then we can start serving them.” Case managers can also refer individuals to Lifeworks Extended Employment directly, and do not need to go through Vocational Rehabilitation. 

If you are a person with a disability currently looking for support at your job or know someone who might benefit from Extended Employment, please get connected with Lifeworks! You can learn more on our website or contact Chelsea at cgarvin@lifeworks.org or (507) 327-1952.