Rather than sit back and wait until federal guidelines are a done deal, Jim Johnson decided to take a proactive stance.
As executive director of Sunflower Diversified Services, Johnson volunteered to become an active member of the Employment Resource Network.
This InterHab network has been in place for a number of years but recent federal decisions have triggered the need to re-focus attention on employment opportunities for persons with disabilities, Johnson said.
Sunflower serves people with developmental disabilities and delays; InterHab is the statewide association that represents Sunflower and similar agencies by advocating for rights to employment, education and an independent lifestyle.
“The recent decisions came from the Centers for Medicare/Medicaid,” Johnson said. “They may ultimately limit some programs that individuals have come to depend on by placing a high priority on community competitive employment. But that type of job is not always in the best interests of some people we serve.”
Johnson and about a dozen of his peers throughout the state have been meeting on a monthly basis to discuss the topic.
“I asked to be involved because it is the best way to understand, from the state’s perspective, the changes that are occurring,” Johnson explained. “Sunflower has its own priorities with regard to creating job opportunities for individuals. Earning potential is the only way that people can achieve the independent lifestyle they seek.
“By being part of the long-range planning, we can better tailor our programs locally to comply with guidelines,” he added. “Our chairwoman would say that if we don’t help lead the process, guidelines will be defined for us. And those definitions may not be in the best interests of the individuals we serve. I couldn’t agree more.”
The overall goal is to understand the intent of federal rules and work closely with state leaders to develop a plan that will satisfy expectations, Johnson summarized.
“One priority is extending opportunities for work to people who may be unable to meet competitive employment standards,” Johnson elaborated. “Everyone is entitled to live as independently as possible and a range of job options is a vital part of that.”
Federal rules driving the network speak to that same entitlement. Sunflower, Johnson said, has always strived to provide options for each person to maximize earnings.
“Earning a paycheck loses some of its importance when someone else is directing how you earn it and how you spend it,” he said. “More than 90 percent of those we serve live in homes they rent from community landlords. They can live where and with whom they choose with our support.
“The power to choose is crucial and helping someone secure a job is a critical step to meeting personal goals,” Johnson continued. “When you make your own decisions and know that others value those choices, employment becomes not only something you do but also something in which you take personal pride.”
Sunflower, a non-profit agency, serves infants, toddlers and adults in Barton, Pawnee, Rice, Rush and Stafford counties. It is in its 48thyear.