BALTIMORE — Spurred on by COVID challenges, a grant from the Maryland Developmental Disabilities Council to two human services providers is accelerating a trend away from employing folks with developmental disabilities in separate groups, and instead, bringing them into the community at large to work.

Dale Verstegen, senior research associate for TransCen Inc., one of the grant recipients, said COVID prevented individuals with disabilities from gathering in traditional group employment centers.

Now, he noted, the pandemic has pushed human-services providers to rethink new ways to accommodate folks with disabilities into mainstream workplaces.

“Knowing that this is the direction the field is going, COVID provides this opportunity to come out of the pandemic offering more personal-centered community-based types of services,” Verstegen explained.

Rockville-based TransCen is working with nonprofit Penn Mar over the next year to retrain providers to expand employment outcomes for Maryland folks with developmental disabilities. The grant includes listening sessions with advocates and families to figure out the best way forward.

Rachel London, executive director of the Council, said the grant builds on years-long partnerships the council has established to help providers offer folks with developmental disabilities pathways to meaningful employment. She pointed out the pandemic also caused staff shortages, which seriously impacted folks with developmental disabilities.

“Direct support professionals are those that sometimes do the most intimate things for people with developmental disabilities and help them with all of their activities during the day,” London observed. “Certainly the increase in wages is one thing that we’ve seen across the board that is helpful.”

She added the Maryland Department of Disabilities has been working with the state Department of Health to develop a plan to distribute more than $160 million in American Rescue Plan funds to raise payments to developmental disability providers. President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan also promises to raise wages for providers.

Diane Bernard, Public News Service

Diane Bernard is a digital and radio journalist based in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area with more than 10 years of journalism experience. Her print and online credits include work for The Washington...

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