DISABLED WORKFORCE THE ARC CONTINUES IN MEANINGFUL WAYS

By Ryan Phillips
The term “handicapped” has, in a way, become outdated. In recent years, the workforce has evolved to
accommodate those with disabilities and the numbers clearly reflect an involved demographic.
As of 2013, 12% of the civilian population was listed as having a disability and according to Diversity Inc., who
provided figures for National Disability Employment Awareness Month, nearly 21% of those in the American
workforce claim a disability.
The Arc of Tuscaloosa, whose expansive main office can be found on University Boulevard, is one such local
organization that provides an outlet for employment, among other amenities and services, to those with disabilities. With
a large number of participants at two Tuscaloosa-based locations, the stigmas surrounding employment for the disabled
are cast aside and capable hands are put to work.
Ryan Delfin, executive director of The Arc, presides over operations and is pleased with the contributions made by
their programs. At The Arc, preconceived notions are the enemy.
“What we are trying to show is that the people we serve are just like you and me, and that they have so much more
ability than what people think,” he said.
Around 260 individuals participate in the various programs at The Arc, according to Delfin, who then explained the areas
where they have found the most success.
“We have four programs, two day habilitation programs, one here and one over at Palk Enterprises, which is located off of
I-359,” he said. “We have an hourly services program and one other employment program. Our most successful program
is the Palk Enterprises Supported Employment Program or PESE for short. When people want to find real community
based jobs, that is it. These are not special jobs with a special rate of pay and special schedule—It is the same job anyone
else has.”
Joann Dunn, program manager at The Arc, has worked with the disabled population for much of her career and applauded
the variety of services offered through the different programs. According to Dunn, there is a feeling of excitement heading
into each new day for both the participants and staff.
“We have people here that also have jobs where they may run the register or stock or clean, and they get a
paycheck,” she said. “Their faces just light up when they get that paycheck and they have the option to deposit it in
the bank. They all ask, ‘can I work?’ or ‘I want to work’. There is a new experience every day. I will be in my office at
the end of the day and I always have them asking what we are doing the next day— From one day to the next, they
are always so excited.”
The PESE program functions to promote self-reliance, responsibility and confidence in participants, according to
Delfin. Through employment, the individuals are given an outlet to interact within the community while learning job
skills.
“It is in the same way that you and I have independence at our jobs,” he said. “They have to get their own transportation
to the job site. Some drive. Some have to take a cab and some have to take the bus. If they are sick, they have to call in
themselves. If they want a day off, they have to ask. What our employment specialist does is that they help them
interview for the job and help train them. As the person is learning their job and getting more acceptable at it, our staff
slowly fades out to the point where the person that we serve is working on their own. That is the ultimate sign of
independence—They know they can do their jobs and know what they have to do.”
Delfin then said safeguards are in place to maintain constant contact with employers in the event of a specific need or
issue regarding an employee. To name a few, The Arc partners with establishments such as Red Lobster, Cintas and the
Salvation Army Thrift Store, who then provide work.
“What we also offer is, for however long that person is at that job, we stay in contact with that employer and if there is
any problem, all they have to do is call,” Delfin said. “It could be after one month, one year, or 10 years. As along as
that person is at that job, all the employer has to do it call us.”
In addition to the success of the employment-based programs, Delfin praised the wide range of activities provided to
participants, all aimed at fostering interaction and involvement.
“We have a greenhouse that starts up in early spring— We have two gardens there and one in the far back,” he said.
“We have a choir that goes around to churches, nursing homes and business functions and they sing. Their name is
the Sounds of Joy. We also have an art program where they paint and we frame it. Each year, we have an exhibit for
them and people come to see the artwork and possibly buy it. It’s done through paintings on canvas, wine glasses,
Christmas ornaments and scarves.”
Headquartered in Washington D.C., The Arc is a non-profit organization that functions in part with the United Way.
The Tuscaloosa branch of The Arc has established itself in the local community after decades of service, but can
trace its roots to humble beginnings, according to Delfin.
“Our Arc started in 1957 in the basement of a small building and over time we grew.” he said. “There was only a small
group in the beginning and it basically started through grassroots efforts by parents—After that, it just grew over
time.”
For the past nine years, Joann Dunn has worked at The Arc and continues to connect with an enthusiastic group. According

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