Community Integrated Services (CIS) is a Philadelphia’s largest supported employment provider in the Southeastern region and a leader in helping people with disabilities in their area find and obtain jobs. #IWantToWork’s Social Media Manager, Lewis Hall, and I had the opportunity to travel to CIS, funded by the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR).
Integrated employment allows individuals with disabilities to obtain jobs alongside people who do not have disabilities and receive competitive wages. CIS helps job seekers find fulfilling employment in a variety of diverse sectors, including clerical services, retail, food service, hospitality and tourism, gaming, child care, healthcare, and more.
Jobs are not as easy to find for people with disabilities. Attitude and stigma are often as detrimental to finding jobs as physical and/or support barriers. If businesses and employers don’t have positive relationships, experiences, or even exposure to individuals who have disabilities, they often assume we aren’t capable of doing real, meaningful work. CIS serves as an important ally for helping to break down these barriers.
Candidates are referred to CIS through the Department of Human Services Office of Developmental Programs (ODP) and school districts throughout the Greater Philadelphia region. We interviewed as Susan Schonfeld, Executive Director of CIS, who got interested in this field as a result of having a family member with a disability, who Susan excitedly added, “is gainfully employed!”
“I think employment is important for everyone – it helps to contribute to someone’s identity in this world,” Schonfeld said.
CIS works with job seekers in Philadelphia, Montgomery, Delaware, Chester, and Bucks counties, and the state of Delaware. “We serve approximately 608 people in Philadelphia and the surrounding area. All the participants who are placed in employment through our services earn wages and pay taxes just as any other employee,”said Schonfeld.
When job seekers come to CIS, they first determine their interests. They then try out jobs to see what might be a good fit for their interests and abilities. CIS participates in Individual Education Plan (IEP) transition team meetings in high schools to assist individuals and families in finding supports for post-high school.
CIS also provides counseling about benefits to help people with disabilities navigate Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and health insurance once employed. The organization helps with identifying and developing individualized technology supports to use in the workplace to further increase opportunities for employment success.
Schonfeld has a Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education and Master’s in Psychology. She presents on employment services for people with disabilities at conferences and is a consultant on implementing community employment and employment models for other organizations and states. CIS and staff have received a total of seven awards for their progressive views and outstanding assistance with employment.
“I am lucky to have a very talented group of staff who strive to find the best employment opportunities for those we serve. I think we, as an organization, see the potential in all that we serve,” Schonfeld said.
Currently, there are 13 categories of employers, with a total of 342 businesses collaborating with CIS. The full listing can be found on the CIS website.
The CIS staff’s attitude, philosophy, and passion seem to shine brightly. Thank you for your work to support people with disabilities, Ms. Schonfeld and the CIS staff!
To learn more about CIS and read their success stories, visit their website.
Do you or does your organization have a story to share about how you are working to help people with disabilities find employment in the community? Please contact Alexa Brill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Alexa Brill