Individuals with disabilities see a future in the workforce

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COLUMBIA - The Arc of Missouri, along with other organizations, hosted a summit, "Employment - The Changing Landscape", for individuals with disabilities. 

"We're trying to educate individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their family members, also the general public of all the requirements that are coming down from the federal level," said President of the Arc of the Missouri Ed Thomas.

According to its website, "The Arc of Missouri believes strongly in the rights of individuals with developmental disabilities to be participating members of their community."

The summit included a selected panel of speakers including Victoria Thomas from the United States Department of Justice. 

After high school graduation, individuals with disabilities work at a sheltered workshop to develop skills before entering the workforce. However, with new laws in place, some employment supports will need to be adjusted. Thomas said he just wants all these individuals to be treated the same. 

"The real federal intention is so that they do have the opportunity to be included in the communities," Thomas said. 

Bruce Young is the executive director for the CMSE Giving Gardens, a local sheltered workshop in Columbia. He has been apart of the organization since 1993 and has always believed these workshops help the individuals with disabilities progress in the workforce. 

"We get them ready for jobs and we've had a great success in people that have made that transition who have never had work experience move on to competitive employment," he said. 

Ann Barber has a 24-year-old with autism. She said it can be a struggle at times with his behavior, but this summit will benefit him in the long run. 

"This is something that will benefit him in the long run, but I don't think he will understand the impact of it today," Barber said. 

She believes that, even though her son is no longer a part of a local sheltered workshop, it has progressed his skills. 

"He learned to do tasks that I don't think he was capable of doing when he was in school," she said. 

Thomas believes that the sheltered workshops were great when they were first created and helped individuals get to where they are today. However, he said they need to transform a bit in the future. 

"The genuine intent is not to shut down sheltered workshops tomorrow. The genuine intent is truly to give individuals living in the community the opportunities to work and have a meaningful day," Thomas said. 

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