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Legislators go to work for Disability Employment Awareness Month

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Across the state legislators are following employees with disabilities around their workplace as part of Disability Employment Awareness Month.

State Senator Judy Emmons visited Campbell Industrial Force in Edmore to follow around Elliet West, a 27-year-old laminator with autism.

Ellie has spent the last four years working at the factory and is one of several employees with a developmental disability employed there.

Kenrick Jensen is with Mid-Michigan Industries. He helps place people with disabilities into jobs. He said employers often underestimate what a person with disabilities can do.

“Just give them a chance. Do whatever you do with anyone else. If they’re not doing the job, if they’re not showing improvement, you do what you would do with anyone else: you fire them. But give them the chance.”

Jensen worked with Rick Campbell, the owner of the factory, to help place Elliet. He describes Rick as someone who quote “won’t pull any punches.”

Campbell, for his part, said workers like Elliet have been great for his company. He pointed to the line where Elliet works, gluing together pieces of cardboard flats.

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“That literally used to be a two person job and Elliet does it all. Does that tell you anything?”

And, Campbell said, he’s hired ten or so employees with special needs. He said they’ve taken slightly more work to train but “Once you train them, you’ve got a dedicated employee.”

Franklin West, Elliet’s father, said the job has been great for his son.

“Elliet has become much more certain of himself and able to branch out and do things that we never expected him to be able to do simply because of the work experience here.”

Jazmine Fews, with the Michigan Developmental Disabilities Council, said over 80% of people with intellectual and or developmental disabilities are unemployed.

“And most who do work in segregated settings so that will be in factories only with people that also have IDD and often they are making a sub-minimum wage.”

She said integrating people with intellectual disabilities is important.

“We’ve seen that are able to work in integrated settings it helps with their self-confidence, they are able to make a living and be independent, and pay taxes like the rest of citizens in Michigan.”

Fews said the Council advocates integrating people with intellectual and developmental disabilities with the rest of the workforce and paying them at or above the minimum wage.

Elliet, in his work at the factory, is paid more than minimum wage.

Senator Judy Emmons said it’s important to put people with disabilities to work. But, she said, as someone who's about to be term-limited out, the question of what kind of legislative supports are needed is for her successor.

“It will be incumbent on the next senator and rep as to what they want to introduce.”

When asked why it’s important for him to come to work, Elliet gives a straightforward answer.

“Well it’s to make those parts for the company and if I don’t have any other work than I get laid off.”

And, his mother standing beside him added, if he doesn’t have work he gets bored.