Thursday, December 15, 2005

Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions

I grew up in North Bergen, New Jersey as a child and attended a parochial school called St. Brigid’s School. At St. Brigid’s, the good Sisters of St. Dominic introduced us to many of the world’s literary classics. My classmates and I were exposed to works by the legends including William Shakespeare, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mark Twain, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Edgar Allen Poe, and Ernest Hemingway. Oh yeah, the nuns also made sure we were familiar with the inspired words of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John.
While my Catholic school classmates were reading A Tale of Two Cities, Beowulf, and studying their catechism lessons, I was also busy reading timeless classics. I was mesmerized by the brilliant writing of Al Jaffee, Don Martin, Dave Berg, Mort Drucker, Dick DeBartolo, and Sergio Aragones. That’s correct, my social and political philosophy was being shaped by reading MAD Magazine. I was a proud reader of this satirical comic magazine and a huge fan of its outstanding writers known to the faithful as "the usual gang of idiots."
Growing up, I would have given anything to join the gang of idiots as a contributing writer. But you know, life has its own plans for you. Instead, I had the privilege of becoming a manager of job placement and employment programs for people with significant disabilities. And along with this territory, I got to share my own unique view of the world by writing federal and state grant proposals. In the spirit of MAD Magazine, I no doubt have had grant review panels roaring with hysterical laughter at my silly ideas over the past 30 years. But I digress.
One of my favorite MAD Magazine features was an irreverent classic by Al Jaffee called "Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions. (SATSQ)" Al Jaffee, who is now 84 years of age, had no time for people who had the audacity to ask completely idiotic questions with painfully obvious answers. In Jaffee’s world, there are no stupid questions, only woefully stupid people. And these people who insist on asking stupid questions deserve witty answers for wasting our precious time. Jaffee accepted it as his civic duty to help stamp out stupid questions in America by equipping us with pre-programmed responses.
To illustrate a SATSQ, consider one of Jaffee’s examples. A man approaches another standing in queue at the end of a line several city blocks long for an entertainment event. He then asks the annoying question: "Is this the end of the line?"
Now, most of us would likely answer the man with a polite: "Why yes, it is." Al Jaffee, however, suggests this alternative: "No, it’s the front of the line and we are all standing backwards." Beautiful! It's moments like these when I really miss my New York City roots.
Well, I thought I would offer a personal tribute to comic writer Al Jaffee by providing my own SATSQs to actual whoppers I fielded here in Minnesota as well as other parts of the country during this past year. All of these questions were associated with the idea of customizing employment for adults with significant disabilities. OK, here goes.
Question: Don, it really doesn’t matter one way or another to Carl as to whether or not he works. So why should we bother developing a community-based job for him?
SATSQ: Well, if it doesn’t really matter to Carl, than why not expect him to work like everyone else so he contributes something to his self-support. It does matter to taxpayers who are paying for his life-long public assistance.
Question: How can we find a job in the workforce for Sarah who is non-verbal? We have no idea about what types of jobs she would like to do?
SATSQ: Hmm. Well, why don’t you consult with your communication "experts" who set up her day program in the adult activities center? They seem to know exactly what she likes to do when she is NOT working.
Question: If we place Nick in a community job won’t he lose all of his friends and social network at the workshop?
SATSQ: You are right. People with disabilities should only socialize with others who have disabilities too. What a silly idea to think that people who don’t have disabilities might actually befriend Nick. By the way, are people with disabilities only allowed to see each other at their day programs or workshops?
Question: Wouldn’t it be better to wait until our program participants meet their work adjustment goals before we consider a transition into community job placement?
SATSQ: Based on research studies measuring the advancement of sheltered workers and center-based participants into competitive employment, some of your participants should be "job ready" by about the age of 96. I hope you will be around to help celebrate your program’s crowning achievement in person-centered career planning.
Question: Don, you don’t really believe all adults with serious mental illnesses can recover and work in a community job, do you?
SATSQ: Of course not. They have a much better chance of recovery spending decades in mental health day treatment, perseverating on their illness symptoms, living in poverty, and lamenting as to why they don’t have jobs.
Question: Kyle has a traumatic brain injury and if we place him into supported employment there is a good chance he might fail. Wouldn’t this be a terrible blow to his self-esteem?
SATSQ: Yeah, why take a well-reasoned risk at integrated employment in the workforce when his ego is being nourished by working in a sheltered workshop with a large group of people with disabilities.
Question: Is it worth the risk of placing youth with significant disabilities into the workforce when they have emotional behavioral challenges?
SATSQ: My God, what on earth was I thinking about! Needless to say, youth who don’t have diagnosed disabilities are perfectly well-adjusted, reliable employees who offer no supervision or job turnover challenges for their respective employers.
Question: Don, shouldn’t people have a choice about their programs and whether or not they choose to work?
SATSQ: Why should people with disabilities get a free ride when the rest of us have to work? What’s wrong with having expectations that everyone should work and leave matters about choice to the type of work they do or employer they choose to work for?
Question: Isn’t there a risk of exploitation and personal safety if people with significant disabilities are placed into community jobs?
SATSQ: And your point is that there are no risks to exploitation or personal safety inside institutional, sheltered work, or center-based adult service settings?
Question: Will employers hire people with significant disabilities to work in their companies? Will co-workers accept the presence of people with significant disabilities?
SATSQ: Of course not. Tens of thousands of employers in the United States, and indeed throughout the world, are complete idiots who made bad business decisions to hire job seekers with disabilities as their employees. Also, hundreds of thousands of co-workers are being forced against their collective will to work alongside supported employees inside these companies. It’s an absolute travesty.
Question: We are able to create job opportunities inside our workshop for people with significant disabilities, but where will we find the time to develop customized jobs in the workforce based on what people are able to do?
SATSQ: I understand your point. This would mean you might actually have to leave your workshop and find the time to negotiate customized job opportunities with business leaders in your community. How inconvenient!
Question: We can’t afford to have job coaches for everyone we might place into individual customized employment positions. Do you have any suggestions?
SATSQ: Sure. Why don’t you begin by "placing" some of your center-based staff into "customized jobs" of their own. These jobs should include responsibility for teaching business leaders how to train and supervise employees with significant disabilities.
Question: Laurie would like to work in a community job but her Mom says she will only get to work in the community over her dead body! What do you think?
SATSQ: I think it’s sad her Mom is going to miss the pleasure of celebrating Laurie’s first community job after she is gone.
Was I a bit harsh with my sarcasm? OK, in all honesty, I never said these things. I only wanted to score a few points by using a little satire in this piece. I do admit to temptations in using SATSQs from time to time in response to questions such as these. But of course, sarcasm is rarely effective in changing hearts and minds. And direct attacks on organizations and direct service professionals only serves to make them more defensive in their positions.
In my experience, stimulating organizational and systems change policies requires a completely different strategy. It must be one that is rooted in professional respect, public education, and researched facts. In truth, change is not really possible unless organizations want to change, recognize the benefits, and its leadership is committed to taking progressive action.
People with significant disabilities want and deserve better access to job and economic opportunities in the American workforce. And this means quite simply that we need better leadership in all the right places. We need more government agencies, employers, secondary and post-secondary schools, disability service providers, advocacy organizations, and community policy leaders who are not afraid of change and up to the task.
The national employability outlook for youth and adults with disabilities will not change substantially without healthy measures of leadership, values, education, flexibility, synergy, creativity, resourcefulness, and resiliency. We need to recruit and employ leaders who hold these qualities and are willing to work collectively to create a better tomorrow.
Question: Uh Don, won’t some of your colleagues be MAD about your writing this satirical piece?
SATSQ: MAD? What? Me Worry?


Anonymous Jon Alexander said...

Did I ever tell you the story about the executive director who walked through his workshop and saw some folks sitting at a table without any work to do. He asked them what they were doing and they replied, "we are waiting for break time."

1:53 PM  
Blogger Don Lavin said...

I love it!

1:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don I have recently found your blog site and absolutely love your writings!! I work for a state VR agency and agree with so many of your ideas....I have passed your web address on to my supervisor and some co-workers!! KEEP UP THE GOOD WRITING...I look forward to your next post!!!

10:11 AM  
Blogger Don Lavin said...

Thank you for stopping by and sharing your kind words. It's always comforting to know that I have kindred spirits out there in state VR!

Sometimes readers think I am being negative on VR. Actually, I am big supporter. I only want to reform the way we do business and market our services to employers and consumers with disabilities. The time for significant change is overdue in my opinion. That is the focus of what I am trying to do here.

4:00 PM  
Anonymous Augusto Sousa said...

Hello, from Portugal

I'm president of a private, non-profit organisation, promoting supported employment for people with learning disabilities, since 1991.

I was involved also in promoting the EUROPEAN UNION OF SUPPORTED EMPLOYMENT - EUSE, working since 1993.

It's good to read your blog, yours opinions about VR.

Augusto Sousa

3:41 AM  
Blogger Don Lavin said...

Hello Augusto,

Thank you for stopping by my blog. One of the best things about blogging is the opportunity to connect with people worldwide who have an interest in the same topic. I am glad that you found some of my articles to be of some interest.

Yes, I am well aware that supported employment is a worldwide movement. And I have indeed heard of the EUSE. It seems that people with significant disabilities struggle with many of the same issues in finding jobs in our world economy no matter where they live.

I tend to write about program policy and funding issues that are specific to the U.S. but I recognize that many of these barriers are of high interest elsewhere. For this reason, I am trying to be more mindful that I am writing to a world audience to the extent possible.

Thanks again for stopping by and best wishes in promoting SE in your country.

7:58 AM  

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