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CDS Celebrates Disability Employment Awareness

CDS Celebrates Disability Employment Awareness
By Misty Menees
Special to The Press
How do you plan to observe National Disability Employment Awareness Month? Unless you’re disabled or know someone who is, you probably weren’t even aware that the observance existed. But Geraldine Garrison, a client of Community Developmental Services of Martin hopes you will celebrate along with her.
A resident of the Lavinia community, Geraldine and 52 other working CDS clients are among the growing number of workers with disabilities in America who have overcome incredible obstacles to not only succeed in life, but to excel in the workplace.
Garrison, 34, was born with a mild form of mental retardation. After graduating from the special education program at McKenzie High School in 1991, she began attending a day program for developmentally disabled adults in Carroll County. She was there for 12 years.
Sandy Stevens of CDS said “although she had also been married for 12 years and had an 11-year-old son, she had never held a job out in the community.” Stevens remembered “Geraldine had issues with her temper and never responded well to constructive criticism.”
“Those were two big obstacles for her,” Stevens said.
It was in May of 2003 when Garrison began attending CDS in Martin. CDS is a private, non-profit, community-based agency serving developmentally disabled adults from Weakley, Obion, Henry, Lake and Carroll counties in Northwest Tennessee.
Stevens said “The staff of CDS worked patiently with Geraldine over the course of several years on her temper issues and also worked with her to improve her personal hygiene.”
To help her adjust to taking well-meant criticism, Stevens said “We first put her on a supervised cleaning crew at the Henry County airport.”
It was there that Stevens says Garrison showed “significant improvement” in her ability to stay on task and to follow directions of others.
Then in April of 2006, Garrison was given the opportunity to take what she had learned at CDS into the community with her first paying job out in the real world.
Since that day, Garrison has maintained a five-day-a-week job at Wendy’s restaurant in Fulton, Ky.
She works the lunch shift cleaning dining room tables, cleaning restrooms and taking out the trash. After her shift, she returns to the CDS workshop where she washes her uniform to have it clean and ready for the next day.
Four and a half years after coming to CDS, Garrison is a changed woman. Stevens said her temper issues are a thing of the past.
“She is always pleasant to be around and her self-esteem has greatly improved since we first met her.”
“She takes pride in her work and in her personal appearance,” Stevens said. “Her co-workers at Wendy’s in Fulton are also impressed at what a hard worker she is.” Garrison loves her job so much that she said she would like to “work forever.”
Garrison and her husband, Doyle, live in Lavinia, right next door to his mother who cares for the Garrison’s child. Stevens said having the Wendy’s job is important to Garrison.
“She has that desire to be a part of society and to earn an income to support her family.”
National Disability Employment Awareness Month is an opportunity to recognize the contributions and accomplishments of Americans with disabilities.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 helped to ensure that individuals with disabilities are better able to engage in productive work and participate fully in the life of this Nation.
Stevens said, “It is important that we continue to expand job opportunities for adults with disabilities in Northwest Tennessee.”
“We need to eliminate the barriers and false perceptions that keep them from joining the workforce,” Stevens said. “Geraldine is just one example that it can and does work.”
Stevens’ wish is that more local employers will help by providing disabled adults access to jobs that allow them to demonstrate their potential and realize their dreams.
Located adjacent to the campus of the University of Tennessee at Martin, CDS works with individuals who are developmentally disabled, helping them live normally in the community. Normalization, the highest form of independence, is the ultimate goal.

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