As Told To
Stories about the way the world works, in the words of people living in it.
Dominic Garrini is a 30-year-old social worker in Canton, Ohio. He works for a company contracted by the state of Ohio to assist people with disabilities in finding work opportunities. He spoke with The Outline as part of “As Told To,” our ongoing series about how the coronavirus is reordering peoples’ lives. This conversation has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.
Garrini helps his clients with a wide variety of basic job-searching skills, like building a resume and practicing for an interview. “We stick with them through the process of finding and obtaining a job,” Garrini said. “And once they obtain a job, we stick with tem for another 90 days of support, to make sure that they can stay in the position.”
Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities [the state agency that helps disabled Ohioans get “quality employment”] takes candidates who fit their criteria and they send them to my company to get them working within the community. Though people think developmental disabilities are primarily physical, they’re also mental. I’ve helped people get jobs with stuff as simple as clinical depression, but I've also helped people who have cerebral palsy or Down’s syndrome, and things like that.
Most of my job is done on face-to-face contact; we meet at a Starbucks or a Dunkin’ Donuts or a library, or I meet with a kid in a school. But all of those places are closed — the schools, the libraries. So we can’t meet face-to-face, which means we have to do this job remotely. And a lot of it is, like, sometimes you struggle to hold the attention of someone who has Down’s syndrome or severe ADHD or Asperger's. And if you struggle to hold their attention in a face-to-face meeting for an hour, imagine trying to do that on the telephone.
All the counselors from the state agency, they’ve all been working remotely now for almost a month, and they can’t go into their offices. So we can’t get authorizations to provide certain services, or they’re coming slower and later.
But the biggest adjustment of the pandemic is the inability to get any of those face-to-face meetings. As a company it hurts us, because in addition to what I do, we do job coaching assignments. That's where a job coach works one-on-one with an individual at a place of business, and clearly no one is approving those and that's a lost revenue stream for our company.
We were told to stay in touch with our consumers but to file for unemployment, because as of right now with the uncertainty… I'm doing certain things. I’m talking to my clients, I’m filing for billing authorizations, I still have individuals who have had jobs before the pandemic or who are looking for jobs during the pandemic. There are obviously a lot of places hiring right now, grocery stores and that, but where it comes to us — if someone gets hired at a grocery store right now, let’s say in two months the pandemic crisis subsides and these stores start cutting these extra workers they had, the state looks at that and says, “oh that’s a temporary job, and that doesn’t necessarily count [as employment for these workers].”
We were told last Sunday, “Hey guys we’re sorry but with no new business, you can only work up to five hours a week.” I’m kind of displaced from work when you think about it, because really what is five hours a week. And before I averaged like 35 or 36 hours a week.
[These new temporary jobs] might be easy to obtain for anybody, developmental disabilities or not, cause you can get a call if you can fill out an online form, and that’s great. But where our limitations now hurt us is to attend the interviews with these people, because three people in one small room doesn’t really fit the social distancing rules that we have. With the state telling us its best to not meet individuals face-to-face, it puts a damper on that.
And this really hurts the retention process. Maybe the biggest thing we do in our line of work is teach someone how to hold a job, and without us being able to do physical on the job support, to help them and to speak to management, it hurts us. The last thing the manager of a grocery store who’s trying to keep toilet paper and cleaning supplies on the shelves, the last thing he wants to do is talk to me about “hey, how’s Billy doing?”
I have a young man who wants to work in a nursing room, or a setting like that, but obviously those places are ground zero right now, they're not letting outsiders in. And does that person really want to start the journey of finding a job during this time? No. They're probably gonna hold off and wait for things to cool down.