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Upbound at Work helps dis­abled people get jobs at Fortune 500 com­panies, including Ford Motor. Wiki­media

With the help of pro­grams like Upbound at Work, dis­abled indi­viduals in Michigan are finding employment at Fortune 500 com­panies such as Ford Motor and IBM.

Upbound at Work is an employment out­reach program under its umbrella non-profit the Autism Alliance of Michigan. The unem­ployment rate for Autistic indi­viduals has only decreased by 1 percent from 91 percent to 90 percent, between 2016 and 2018. While the orga­ni­zation wasn’t tracking numbers early on, Upbound at Work has placed 144 indi­viduals into the Michigan work­force in the last two years.

“All cit­izens have the right to work. No per­ceived obstacle, prej­udice, or lack of awareness should deny any person that oppor­tunity,” the AAMs Mission Statement says.

According to Chief Program Officer Tammy Morris, Upbound at Work grew out of a free case man­agement program. In 2014, the AAM realized that while most of their adults were inter­ested in employment, they couldn’t find jobs.

“These indi­viduals were highly cre­den­tialed and there’s a ten­dency for high IQ in Autism,” Morris said. “We just found a dis­connect between the potential of the indi­vidual and the oppor­tu­nities available. The autism spectrum is so broad that employers didn’t know how to handle these indi­viduals. Accom­mo­da­tions have to be unique for each person.”

36-year-old Jeff Gebhart found Upbound at Work soon after grad­u­ating from Walsh College in December of 2014.

“It was hard to find a job after grad­u­ating, mainly because the people I was applying to were looking for expe­rience,” Gebhart said. “I didn’t have that being freshly out of college.”

Gebhart has Asperger’s syn­drome, which falls on the Autism spectrum.

“It affects me in social sit­u­a­tions,” Gebhart said. “It’s harder for me to get com­fortable in an interview, for instance.”

Upbound at Work found Gebhart a job in bail­ments, a tech­nical term for loan con­tracts, at the Ford office in Dearborn. He deals with the paperwork that’s required to loan out vehicles.

“When we started our pilot with Ford, it was pretty ground­breaking,” Morris said. “There were myths and con­cerns about safety on the job. Things like indi­viduals with dis­abil­ities were more prone to injury on the job, which is just not true. Breaking into auto was pretty sig­nif­icant.”

Gebhart has been with Ford since July of 2016. He said his coworkers were extremely wel­coming when he first started and are always willing to help him out.

“It can be chal­lenging at times like when I have to chase people down to get what I need, he said. “But, the people are great, my boss is great. All in all, I’m happy.”

As a non-profit, Upbound at Work not only helps dis­abled indi­viduals gain employment, but also pro­vides a variety of free resources. The pro­grams offers pro­fes­sional coaching, video feedback, work with social skills, and mock inter­views. While Upbound at Work focuses much of their energy on resources for the dis­abled indi­vidual, the program also pro­vides assis­tance and resources for the busi­nesses that hire those indi­viduals. For example, federal con­tractors, such as Ford, are required to hit a 7 percent dis­ability hiring rate. Morris said that Upbound at Work helps com­panies reach those diversity targets.

“They have to be making a good faith effort to reach those goals,” Morris said. “The only area that can be an issue is if they see it as an act of charity. Com­panies may not expect that we’re giving them good can­di­dates with good back­grounds.”

For dis­abled indi­viduals that need employment, Morris sug­gested getting entered into the Upbound at Work database. Gebhart had one piece of advice.

“Don’t give up,” he said. “There’s some­thing out there for you. You just have to find it.”