People with disabilities are the nation’s largest minority and cross all racial, gender, educational and socioeconomic lines. Throughout history, people with disabilities have been subject to prejudice, stereotyping and discrimination. These experiences have occurred in many venues, especially in the workplace. In a recent study (Mansour, 2009), 40% of people with disabilities have said they have encountered job discrimination, and 33% have reported encountering “unfavorable attitudes” while on the job. For individuals who experience developmental disabilities, these negative realities coupled with high rates of unemployment and underemployment often result in isolation, exclusion and feelings of not being valued.
However, progress has been made over the past several decades to improve legislation, policy, practice and attitudes for individuals with disabilities so that they might have better access to integrated and competitive (community) employment. In Ohio, the Governor’s Employment First initiative furthers this vision of community employment for individuals with developmental disabilities by creating a new culture that values every person as having abilities, skills and talents to enrich communities and providing them opportunities to explore career options and seek jobs that fit their skills and interests. An integral component to this new culture is assuring that relevant training and education exists to prepare individuals with developmental disabilities for their desired careers and available jobs. In Greater Cleveland, where traditional sources of employment for people with disabilities are shrinking rapidly, entrepreneurial ventures in the booming local foods and urban agriculture movement hold much promise in providing hands-on training and creating new jobs in the community. Cleveland Crops is one such example of this promising model.
The Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities, along with its nonprofit affiliate, SAW, Inc., and with support and technical assistance from Ohio State University Extension, has turned to entrepreneurship as a new avenue for community employment opportunities for nearly 100 of the Board’s adult consumers, many of whom have struggled to find meaningful, integrated jobs. Cleveland Crops is an agriculture and food processing training and employment program designed to create innovative work opportunities and new career choices for adults with developmental disabilities. Through the development of several urban farms and a 5,000 square foot Food Innovation Center that supports consumers in producing food products and co-packing for others, Cleveland Crops is an entrepreneurial and promising model in achieving the goals of the Employment First initiative by providing training and education on the skills needed for jobs (community employment) within the robust, local food economy. Its integrated approach of learning in the community is also significant in fostering inclusion and valuing diversity as a positive influence.
Click here to learn more about Cleveland Crops.
(Submitted by Marie Barni, Program Director – CD and County Extension Director, Cuyahoga County & Western Reserve EERA)