As we all continue to adapt to new habits, rituals, lifestyles and work adjustments as the pandemic continues on, we at Coletta Collections have already been embracing this challenge for some time! As professionals supporting people with disabilities, we have become accustomed to navigating various challenges and barriers every single day. We spend a significant amount of normal workday creatively thinking about solutions and possibilities to assist our artisans in meeting their full potential and the achievement of their personal and employment goals. This week, our blog will not focus on the latest new product or archive release, but rather the various ways in which we support our individuals to participate in paid employment while they're working in our studios.
Staff at Coletta Collections continuously observe the way that our participants are working, or prefer to work, in order to better understand how to better support them. While several of our workers can vocalize concerns or alert us issues, we have several that do not do this. For that reason, we keep a close eye throughout the day to see if any problems arise. If we see something consistently not working or becoming an issue we can work with the participant to figure out what's going wrong and to come to a new solution. This is not only for new artisans, but seasoned longtime artisans as well. Often our workers will have other underlying issues that impact their daily life and these issues develop or are exacerbated by the aging process, the season or even the time of day.
As slots become available for new artisans to join the Coletta Collections, we provide individual tours of the program space to potential participants and their support team to get a sense of the work environment. During the walk through and in the meetings that follow after the participant and their team consider several things:
-Does this work seem like something I might be interested in trying?
-What kind of work environment is best for me?
-Does it seem crowded, are others too close in proximity for my comfort level?
-How do staff and program participants speak to each other, and is that comfortable for me?
Once a person decides to work with us and all the paperwork is complete, we have them start attending program on a trial basis; which typically lasts a couple of months. New participants spend most of their time adjusting to a new routine and schedule; getting used to the everyday requirements of a workspace such as clocking in and out, working on time on task, learning how to ask for help and remaining professional throughout the day. Additionally, staff initiate a training program to include learning many aspects of the weaving process, tie dye, beading and creating fused glass projects.
During this time staff are also observing how the participant works, what their preferences are and what their skills cater to. The goal is to create supports to allow each person to work an independently and successfully as possible. Just because two people may have the same diagnosis doesn’t mean they will require the same supports!
For example, one artisan in our program is an excellent weaver, she is also unable to count. We needed to figure out a way, other than counting, that she would know when to switch colors. The solution that was successful was measuring the actual length of a color band in that weaving project and then cutting a piece of cardboard in that same length. The artisan would then know to switch colors when she had woven the fabric to the end of the piece of cardboard. This process was and is done for each project she weaves. This accommodation allows her to independently recognize when a color change is needed and then do so without needing help. How empowering is that?
On the other hand, another one of our excellent weavers relies solely on counting to know when a color change is required. Therefore, his accommodation is simply a list of the number of passes he must make in a certain color, with the color name written next to it. When he finishes a color, he crosses out that row and he moves onto the next.
As mentioned before what works once or what works this season may not work the next time. So as our participants continue to work on projects we check in with them and make sure that they are still being successful. If we need to adjust or change the accommodation part way through a project, we do, and we continue to invent new methods that work for each person. The adaptations also vary greatly from project to project. For ornaments we often use a simple template that shows each step visually, allowing the person to follow along with the supplies they have at their table.
As we come into the fall we will start to open our studio spaces again. Now, we will not only need to find accommodations that will be successful for work but also ones that will support our individuals in remaining healthy and safe. As we enter this new period of working in the studio we likely have to adjust how we approach this several times, but with any luck we will be able to find a productive solution that all of our workers can utilize.