Customized Employment Project offers community members with disabilities hope

Nevada Center for Excellence in Disabilities program designed to help Nevadans with intellectual and developmental disabilities secure employment in community-based settings

9/25/2013 - By: Nicole Shearer
As an adult living with autism Brian Marsh has turned his passion into his job with help from the Customized Employment Project.

"If you don't have a disability, what's your expectation? Is it okay to sit home, play video games and watch TV all day? We need the same expectation for a person with disabilities."

This view from Scott Harrington, director of youth transition at the Nevada Center for Excellence in Disabilities (NCED), reflects his enthusiasm around getting people with disabilities involved in the community and in local businesses. His work with the Customized Employment Project, helps find Nevadans with intellectual and developmental disabilities employment that reflects their passion.

The Customized Employment Project, a partnership between the Nevada Rehabilitation Division at the Department of Employment, Training, and Rehabilitation (DETR), Sierra Regional Center at Developmental Services, and the NCED, is a flexible process designed to personalize the employment relationship between a job candidate and an employer in a way that meets the needs of both. It is based on an individualized match between the strengths, conditions and interests of a job candidate and the identified business needs of an employer. Customized employment utilizes an individualized approach to employment planning and job development - one person at a time - one employer at a time.

"We start with each individual person and try to find out what their passion, skills and interests are," Harrington said. "We then go into the community and try to carve something out where the business benefits."

Businesses in our community have benefitted indeed. The Customized Employment Project has placed fourteen people in integrated jobs throughout our community where they are making a difference and earning competitive wages.

One of these people is Brian Marsh of Brian's Music Conversion. Marsh is 39 years old and has a cognitive disability. His passion for music is clear. When asked about his favorite bands, Marsh couldn't decide between The Beatles, Rolling Stones or Jimmy Hendrix.

Working inside Recycled Records, he has taken his passion and knowledge of music and turned it into a successful business by converting vinyl records, cassette tapes, 45s and reel-to-reel to digital formats, so people can listen to them on their computers, smart phones, iPods, etc. He provides customers a CD version of their music in a jewel case (including the artwork) and a flash drive with the digital version of the album. He also retains the copy of the music on his computer, in case the customer loses their file.

"We would receive requests from customers to help clean up an album of theirs and see if we could get the clicks and pops out of the record," Recycled Records store owner Paul Doege said. "It was never a priority for us and something that would take us a while to get to. With Brian on board, customers get their requests met more quickly. We're all about offering customers the highest quality product and for people who have vintage work that we can't offer original copies of Brian helps get them what they need."

"When I went to meet with him for the first time, his apartment looked exactly like Recycled Records," Harrington said. "He is really knowledgeable about music and that's what brought us here."
 
Harrington and The Customized Employment Project worked with Marsh to start what became the effort's first self-employment project. After completing a required 87-hour community-based assessment, where Marsh worked at Recycled Records stocking CDs and helping where he was needed, Harrington discovered the need for electronic music conversion in conversations with Doege. He leant Marsh his personal turntable and after seeing the potential, Harrington was able to assist Marsh in getting his business off the ground.

Others took notice. Marsh received an $8,000 grant from the Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation which paid for his computer, headphones, turntable and other key expenses. He also worked with the Nevada Small Business Development Center, which helped him create a business plan and marketing materials including his logo, business cards, brochures and a website.

"This is the best job I've ever had," Marsh said. "I get to listen to music all day."

"Businesses we work with don't hire people with disabilities because they feel obligated," Harrington said. "It's because they feel they offer a valuable and meaningful contribution to their business and I think that is exactly what makes this program so successful."

The NCED is a unit of the University of Nevada, Reno College of Education. It serves as Nevada's University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD). The UCEDDs were established and funded by the Developmental Disabilities Rights Assistance and Rights Act (DD Act). UCEDDs work to accomplish a shared vision that foresees a nation in which all Americans, including Americans with disabilities, participate fully in their communities. Independence, productivity and community inclusion are key components of this vision.


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