You Said It: Empowering People with Developmental Disabilities Through Community Jobs

You Said It: Empowering People with Developmental Disabilities Through Community Jobs

Most people with intellectual and developmental disabilities find it difficult to enter the world of work without qualified and experienced preparation and support. Opportunities for employment through vocational day programs often separate them from those who do not have disabilities, hindering their sense of integration and inclusion in society. To address this issue, Oak-Leyden Developmental Services and other nonprofits are providing employment training and securing community-based job placements for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2012 about 50 percent of people with generalized disabilities could not find work due to barriers to employment caused by the presence of their disability. More specifically, The Arc advocacy organization found that only about 15 percent of respondents to their Family and Individual Needs for Disability Supports (FINDS) survey “reported that their family member with an intellectual and/or developmental disability was employed.” A lack of employment leads to greater economic disparities for adults who experience disabilities. The American Institutes for Research notes that people with disabilities on average earn 37 percent less each year than those who do not have disabilities.

The Supported Employment Program at Oak-Leyden ensures that participants are able to find jobs they can flourish in, benefiting both themselves and the communities where they live. Oak-Leyden is a leader in the advocacy for and placement of people with disabilities in community jobs in which they perform well and are appreciated. Its Supported Employment Program equips participants with the skills and resources they need to thrive in meaningful roles in and around their neighborhoods. Participants are interviewed and evaluated by job coaches to discover their unique abilities and areas for growth. They then receive help with applications, interviews, money management, and soft skill areas. When they are hired for a job, their job coach provides the on- and offsite support they need to adapt to their role and become a true asset to their employers.

The Supported Employment model at Oak-Leyden has proven successful in securing jobs for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities throughout the greater Chicago area. Those who have completed the program have received jobs at businesses including Target, Aramark, Jewel-Osco, Costco, Delta, Sam’s Club, and The Brookdale. Customers and coworkers alike look forward to seeing or working alongside the positive and well-trained employees that Oak-Leyden has placed into jobs they execute well. They have been empowered to reach their full potential in positions where they are recognized and appreciated.

It is vital that we tap into the possibilities presented by each and every one of our community members, helping them bring their talents to the light. By supporting adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in their job searches, we create a world that is not only more fair and inclusive, but is also made brighter by the contributions of empowered people of all abilities.

To learn more about Oak-Leyden Developmental Services and its Supported Employment Program, please visit To get involved with volunteer opportunities at the organization, please visit Consider joining us at Oak-Leyden’s annual fundraiser supporting programs and services for children and adults with developmental disabilities, which will be held on Feb. 1, 2019, at 6:30 p.m. For tickets and additional information, visit


Ms. Bertha G. Magaña is Chief Executive Officer of Oak-Leyden Developmental Services, which provides Children’s Services, Residential Services, and Lifelong Learning programming that helps children and adults with developmental disabilities meet life’s challenges and reach their highest potential. Magaña is a visionary leader with demonstrated experience in executive coaching and nonprofit management, board governance, and organizational change management. Magaña has served as Associate Vice-President at The Alford Group and Executive Director of Latino Education Alliance. She also served as a member of the Chicago School Board of Education. She is a Leadership Greater Chicago Fellow and a proud mother of three young adults working in the social impact sector, in media planning, and in urban planning.