Up until the early 1970s, most people with developmental disabilities lived in large institutions or with their families and rarely were considered candidates for employment. New York State was involved in implementing the Willowbrook Consent Decree, which ended a three-year battle to improve conditions for people with developmental disabilities. (The cornerstone of the decree was a state requirement for New York State to create community homes for Willowbrook residents.) People who had been in institutions were now moving into group homes in neighborhoods across New York City. Still, they spent their daytime hours in segregated, facility-based day programs. And while these programs aimed to help people gain jobs, very few ever moved into real work.
In the early ’80s Eddie Burns was hired at 1010WINS where he worked until he retired in 2006.
To address this problem, staff from the Vera Institute of Justice, a not-for-profit organization established in 1961, partnered with a New York State developmental disability service to see if Vera’s supported work techniques could help people with developmental disabilities move into the workforce. Planners at Vera had developed a set of strategies designed to help people with little or no work history, or success in the work place, become employed.
Established as a Vera project in 1978, Job Path was developed to prepare people with developmental disabilities for real jobs in the mainstream labor market and was the first of its kind in New York State. Job Path started as a pilot project: five people were placed at a job site – then Chemical Bank, now JP Morgan Chase – and five people were placed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. At the end of the six-week pilot, five of those people were hired at their work sites, and the remaining five were hired by other employers. Since then, we have placed hundreds of people in jobs where they work alongside people without disabilities. Job Path spun off on July 1, 1999, as a stand alone not-for-profit.
Robert Jenkins circa 1980 at a Job Path party. Robert still works at the Port Authority and never misses a holiday party.
Over the years, we have reached out to people with more severe disabilities. Today, Job Path operates a wide variety of programs that help individuals establish their own homes, find paid and volunteer work and social activities in their neighborhoods, and become part of community life.