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Putting People With Disabilities To Work With Major Companies

Evening Edition

There's a San Diego program helping people with developmental disabilities gain a new sense of freedom and independence in the workplace. Research shows people with disabilities are consistently less likely to be working than their non-disabled counterparts.

Calvin Fry has Asperger's syndrome a form of autism. At 23, he's a ball of energy who works up to 28 hours a week at Vons in El Cajon. "5/21/11 is when I started," Fry said walking down the produce aisle. "I'm a janitor/cardboard clerk early in the mornings with the night crew," he said proudly. His supervisor says Fry is always on time with a great attitude. Fry says he would be sitting at home watching TV if it wasn't for TMI, or Toward Maximum Independence.

The San Diego non-profit agency has placed clients with major employers such as Vons, Home Depot and Wal-Mart.

TMI's executive director Kirby Wohlander says the program benefits clients, the community and employers.

"You know the tradition is to isolate people with developmental disabilities in state hospitals or centers. Our approach is quite different from that we really want folks with disabilities to be integrated into the larger community to feel part of the larger community and be accepted by it," Wohlander said.

After a year on the job, Fry hasn't only been accepted at Vons; he's been promoted twice. "Yes he is definitely a super star," Dawn Lee Schlieder, the store manager said. She says hiring Fry has boosted morale at her store. "His personality is contagious, he comes in and always has that great attitude," she said.

Since 1981, Toward Maximum Independence has helped people who are developmentally disabled and or deaf or hard of hearing achieve the greatest independence possible with job placement and support, living assistance and other services. Their motto is: TMI changes one life at a time by focusing on the needs of the individual rather than group programs. The non-profit says employers who hire people with disabilities also benefit from outstanding attendance and lower turnover rates.

Like most non-profits who rely on funding from the state, TMI has seen its share of cutbacks. So it's relying more these days on private donations to keep its operation going.

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