Last week we had the opportunity to tour another organization. PROVAIL was an organization I had some familiarity with. A couple years ago, the opportunity arose to play in their annual golf tournament. It was a fun afternoon and a completely new experience. My connection with the organization didn’t truly start in those days following the golf tournament. Instead, it began with a mid-week meeting a couple years later. We made the drive to the North end of Seattle, pulling into an office building, appearing to be a couple stories in height. After walking through the front doors, the interior took me by surprise. The space felt completely open and exterior light was showing through skylights above. With the feeling of comfort unmistakable, we checked in with a kind woman at the front desk. After sitting in the reception area, there was time to look around the building. The middle portion of the building was completely open from floor to ceiling. With light filling the room through windows above. It provided an open welcoming feeling. There was a visible set of stairs off to one side of this large middle section of the building. Within moments, a gentleman appeared and introduced himself. He struck me as kind and accepting, while leading us into PROVAIL.
We walked through the large open area centering the office building. Climbing onto an elevator taking us up to the second floor. Small talk filled the air while we became more comfortable. Thanksgiving was upon us in the following days and plans with family was our topic. Exiting the elevator found us walking around the corner, into a large conference room. The room continued the theme felt inside the offices of PROVAIL. It was comfortable with windows from floor to ceiling. Letting in the light seemingly brightening the entire office space. There was a long conference table. We took our seats facing the window. Our host inquired of anyone having interest in anything to drink. He took a seat opposite us, with his back toward the window. Looking across the table provided views of the large open space centering the office building and a collection of offices on the other side. We got situated in our seats, opening notebooks, with pens at the ready. I took a moment to peer around at the surroundings. Noticing a television screen to my right. Taking in the view provided by the window. It was a new atmosphere for me, as it was time to learn about PROVAIL.
There were many interesting conversation during our meeting at PROVAIL. One of the most interesting was discussing employment for people with disabilities. We weren’t just discussing finding jobs for people with disabilities, but supporting them in the process. A position referred to as a “job coach” was vaguely familiar. However, it had never been fully explained. The position seemed to be designed to assist someone in their job. They would be there with you, helping you learn the job. The time spent by the job coach could reduce over time, as someone became more comfortable with their position. They were also there to help interactions inside the work environment. There can be times when people don’t understand how to interact with someone who has a disability. Something many of us who have special needs experience. Having someone alongside to facilitate interactions at times could only help the production of those interactions. Along with helping from feeling isolated, not from being judged, but from the apprehension of co-workers. The “job coach” was fascinating in how it could help inclusion, sociability, and self-esteem through the purpose work can provide. Our host told a couple employment stories tugging at nearly all my emotions.
The process of employment was exciting. PROVAIL works with businesses in the community to create jobs for people with disabilities. Working together to find jobs to benefit both the individual and the company. PROVAIL works with any company who will talk with them. Their goal to customize a job by working together, developing the workable position. The program helps bolster inclusivity in our community. It also raises awareness around the incredible asset someone with a disability can be inside the company. The first job discussed was working inside an office building. There might be things in the office being looked over. Things like white boards being cleaned, chairs organized around tables, office supplies being organized, or electronics being situated for the following day. Things around an office getting looked over on a day-to-day basis. But, when they are taking care of, everyone has an easier day. The example was of someone doing this very job for a company. Having three floors of offices to look after. Completing the same path each workday, taking care of things that might be getting missed. They may seem small, but probably make a big impact when being done. The process would seem to help the company and give the employee a paycheck, self-esteem, and purpose.
The first employment example sparked so much interest, we were intrigued to hear another. The second example had an extra layer. One including another program PROVAIL has to offer. Our second employment example included working in a restaurant environment. A girl would be serving food to tables. She began the job without taking the customer orders. Someone else would interact with the table, taking the food order. Once the plates were ready to be delivered, she would take them. After some time, she was ready for added challenge to her job. The time had come to try taking the food order. The challenge to be faced was how to take down the information. She was having trouble remembering the orders, so needed something that would work to keep track. The restaurant, PROVAIL, and the girl worked together forming a solution. PROVAIL went to work in their assistive technology lab and found the solution to helping take orders. PROVAIL came up with an app to be used when taking down the food orders. Making sure it could be operated easily, she could now take on the next challenge in the restaurant. It can be incredible to think of the doors that can be opened with some creativity.
Another fascinating program to learn about was community living. The program provides homes for people with complex disabilities. Those who may find themselves living at home or in nursing homes. Community living has homes of three to four people. They are single-family homes with 24-hour support services. The program helps give individuals more independence. More freedom of choice over their daily living habits. Hearing about community living also brought about emotion. Living in with roommates would seem to help in many ways, not only providing more independent living. It would help guard against feelings of isolation. Promoting social interaction with others and inclusion. It all helps individuals with disabilities live more fulfilling lives. As someone who has felt those feeling of isolation, it brought emotions of hope. Someone with complex disabilities has the ability to be part of a community. Having the experience of living with roommates. The organization continues to brainstorm ways to expand their community living program. Developing ideas for people with different needs, like young adults. The program remains the largest at PROVAIL. With well of half of their employees working in living support. Yet another aspect of PROVAIL, providing solutions and hope to people with disabilities.
As our meeting came to a close, there was one more thing. We closed our notebooks and exited the well-lit conference room. Walking back around the corner to load the elevator. We arrived on the main level if the office building. The assistive technology lab was on the first floor. This was the room housing all of the cool technology, helping people with disabilities communicate. Walking through the door we saw all kinds of nifty looking gadgets. It was challenging to identify everything we were seeing. There were computer monitors with different types of equipment surrounding them. As my attention naturally went to the items I could identify with. In my immediate view was a keyboard striking my interest. The keyboard had keys larger than those on a computer keyboard seen each day. The site made me wonder if those keys would help me type with more speed. Cerebral palsy makes it challenging to use a keyboard, as the steadiness of my fingers to hit the keys feels compromised. If there was more room for error, reducing the fineness of the movement, typing might be more enjoyable. Moving through the room another device stopped me for a moment. There was a joystick with buttons placed around the outside. Similar to an arcade game or controller I had to for gaming as a youth. Only this one felt slightly larger. The buttons were larger, they each had their own color, and they were spaced further apart. Both from the joystick in the middle and each button from the other. Again, creating more space, taking away the requirement of being fine with the movement. All of these things caused my heart to swell with hope. Understanding how challenging everyday things can be to use. There was much more going on in the room than I could possibly understand. But, walking back out through the door, that thought left me thankful.
We walked out of the assistive technology lab and it was time to part. Everyone shook hands, saying thanks of appreciation. We walked across the open space of the office building. Exiting PROVAIL through double doors. The visit couldn’t have gone much better. Talking with Michael Hatzenbeler, the President and CEO, couldn’t have been more informative. PROVAIL does some amazing work with people who have disabilities. An amazing part of the organization was the fact that no one gets turned away. It doesn’t matter how complex the disability might be, PROVAIL has been, and will be there to help. The gentleman leading PROVAIL was kind and made us feel welcome. He provided great information and answered all questions, helping us gain a better understanding of PROVAIL. The biggest take away from our time was the feeling of hope. People with disabilities have somewhere to go. Whether in search of more independent living. Employment, for a paycheck, purpose, and inclusion. Tools, to help with mobility, productivity, or communication. It left me feeling blessed to have them in our community.
For more information, please contact:
Michael Hatzenbeler, President & CEO of PROVAIL.