At UCP Oregon, our customers have big dreams, and it often “takes a village” to make these dreams happen. An example of our village in action is our customer, Linda, and her job as a Research Assistant at Portland State University.
Linda is 62, and was born in Portland. She experiences cerebral palsy. When she was born, she was pronounced dead by doctors. After 5 minutes, she moved her feet, and as Acacia McGuire Anderson, Oregon’s Statewide Employment First Coordinator says, this was the first—but certainly not the last time Linda would defy expectations.
Linda attended the Holladay Center for the Handicapped, but didn’t like that it was segregated. She successfully battled to be able attend Madison High School, but after graduation, found herself in a segregated workshop. She pulled herself out of the workshop and attended college, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
She spent the next 20 years seeking satisfying employment. It was a frustrating time. She opened 7 cases with Vocational Rehabilitation, but kept being told she was “too disabled” to work. She never gave up, though.
Finally, she found an “in” when she saw a speech by Sam Sennott, an Assistant Professor of Special Education at PSU. She approached him about volunteering in his department, and began showing up weekly to provide whatever support she could. Sam was interested in her desire to contribute, but neither of them was quite sure how exactly to use her skills in his lab.
Linda had been working with Vocational Rehabilitation for several years, and at this point, they hired UCP Oregon’s Employment Solutions department to help her obtain employment.
Two UCP employees (Melissa Miller, Employment Solutions Department Director, and Alex Raines, Employment Specialist) conducted a short period of skills analysis and also examined the needs of Sam’s department.
After that, Alex and Melissa worked with Sam and Linda to develop the job tasks, equipment, training, and support Linda would need to be successful on the job. Their final list included include job coaching from Alex, coordination with Linda’s residential provider, consultation for personal care services and equipment from UCP’s Mia McFadden (an Employment Specialist), and other technology to assist Linda with her job duties.
In December of 2017, Linda began to work 18 hours per week at PSU, with the title of Research Lab Assistant. Linda’s job is to test software that will support people who experience communication barriers. She’s the perfect person for this job, as she herself experiences Linda significant communication barriers.
Currently, most devices for people with significant communication barriers are expensive, and require a special technician to set up. PSU—and Linda—want to develop applications that will work on a standard device like an iPad—a device that any family or individual could afford, one that won’t take a special technician to set up.
“This is what I always wanted to do,” Linda says. “I want to help people with complex needs like me.” She’s thrilled to have been able to attend professional conferences and classes in her field.
She has also enjoyed working her UCP team, who, for six months after she started at UCP, made the trek to PSU three times a week to coach and assist Linda.
As Alex says, “This job has been life changing for Linda.” As for his own role, he says that it’s all about “making sure she is supported to achieve what she wants, and to communicate her needs to the rest of the staff.”
Congratulations to Linda, and to the rest of her UCP village! We’re proud of you.
PS: Make sure to watch a video about Lina below!