Betsy Ney, 51, beams as she waits on a customer at Heart Stone Coffee in Phoenixville.
She meticulously prepares a breakfast bagel, ensuring every inch is covered with cream cheese, and gingerly wraps it to go. The customer is a regular and knows Ney, which is evident by the smiles exchanged. Ney is working at her dream job where diversity, growth, and a strong sense of community are a part of the café’s culture and mission statement.
Previously, Ney’s employment consisted of performing the same daily task for more than five years. She was eager for opportunities to flex her creative and mental muscle. Ney reached out to her job coach, Patricia Samms, for help with her career path. Samms works for the Arc of Chester County as Business Facilitator and Employment Training Specialist/Job Coach. She supports and empowers motivated job seekers like Ney and other individuals who may have intellectual, developmental, and physical disabilities, through the Arc’s Comprehensive Employment Services Program.
“The role of any job coach is to find an environment where your job candidate can thrive,” said Samms. “Betsy was volunteering at the local coffee house and mastering a variety of different roles. We reached out to the owner to gauge his interest and forged a new job placement partnership with paid employment for Betsy.”
Heart Stone Coffee owner Peter Mike-Mayer was on board immediately. He built his business and a community coalition dedicated to hiring a diverse staff that welcomed individuals with disabilities.
“There are many misconceptions out there about people with disabilities and the value they bring to the workplace,” he said. “Within one week at the café, Betsy successfully performed over 100 register transactions. People can only rise to the level of expectations and opportunities given.”
Today, in addition to ringing up customers, Ney prepares breakfast foods, washes dishes, works special events, and is in the process of learning how to brew coffee.
“I like doing different jobs,” she said. “The register was hard because I had to keep looking behind me at the blackboard. Patty gave me a picture with all the prices that I put next to the register. It’s a lot easier.”
Samms’s role as Betsy’s job coach is two-fold. The Arc’s Comprehensive Employment Services Program provides job development, ranging from resume building to identifying employee-employer matches. Initially, Samms assesses the needs of both future employer and employee, considering qualifications, challenges, and aspirations.
Phase two is job coaching and training. The Arc provides extensive on-the-job training, ensuring both parties (employer and employee) are set up for success. Samms customizes tools to aid in learning the job, from role play to visual aids, including checklists, videos, and flashcards. She remains at the job site, at no expense to the employer, until their new employee can successfully perform the required responsibilities independently.
“My goal is to support my individual to the point where I basically work myself out of a job,” said Samms.
The Arc has a waiting list of qualified employees like Ney, in search of work opportunities. Today, nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population has some form of disability (stats vary per state), according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s about one in five Americans and it represents the largest minority group in the U.S.
Currently, the Arc works with a diverse group of employer partners, from retail food chains to office settings.
“Our partners are invaluable,” said Rita Mandik, Director of Comprehensive Employment Services Division. “But we need to grow our list to meet the number of willing and able job candidates who come to us for support. Part of the challenge in opening new doors is debunking some of the myths in the business community. Companies worry that an employee with a disability might be more costly, not reliable, or less productive than their typical coworkers. That’s just not accurate.”
A study by DePaul University showed employees with disabilities averaged almost exactly the same job performance rating as those without a disability. The study collected information over a three-year period on 314 employees, 95 of whom had disabilities. On a scale of one to three, employees with disabilities received a 2.30 versus 2.31 for those without a disability.
Feedback has been positive from employers after hiring Arc job candidates and supports those findings. Consistently, initial reservations were proven to be unfounded and perceptions were changed.
“Our partners are happy to report that the employees we place with them, tend to have higher attendance, fewer accidents, and longer career tenures than their typical coworker,” Mandik said.
The Arc also noted that employers see a direct correlation between happy customers and a diversified employee base.
“Betsy has been a great addition,” said Mike-Mayer of Heart Stone Coffee. “We did a customer satisfaction survey and 96 percent said the top reason they come to Heart Stone Coffee is the diversely-abled staff.”
Ney says her favorite part of the job is serving the customers and seeing friends. When she’s not working at the café, she lectures about self-advocacy as Vice President of Speaking for Ourselves, a nonprofit run by people with disabilities, to educate the public on her peers’ needs, wishes, and potential. She dispels stereotypes and reinforces the need for more opportunities, empowering people with disabilities to meet their full potential and achieve success.
Click here for more information on how to become an employer partner with the Arc.