Every parent’s dream is to see their children become independent adults.
For Rebecca and Gene Bisbee of Bellevue, letting go of their hopes and dreams for their daughter Paige to be independent was hard.
When expecting their second child, Rebecca and Gene had no idea their daughter would be intellectually disabled. It wasn’t until Paige was born that doctors diagnosed her with having an abnormal chromosome.
Paige, now 25, was born with an abnormal chromosome that many know as Trisomy 8 or Warkany syndrome. Trisomy 8 is defined as the presence of three copies of chromosome 8 in an individual’s body, according to The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association. During the process of nondisjunction in the zygote phase of fetal development, a pair of chromosomes do not divide evenly, resulting in fewer chromosomes in some cells and too many chromosomes in other cells.
The abnormal chromosome resulted in Paige having dysmorphic features such as a high forehead and deep creases in her hands and feet.
“It’s very hard to find out that your kid is intellectually disabled,” Rebecca Bisbee said. “It’s not what any parent wants for their kids. It’s hard.”
As the months and years passed, Paige received therapy that helped her muscle movement and coordination. By age three she entered school where she received speech therapy. Paige was in school from age three to 22.
In high school, Paige entered a transition program that is designed for young adults with disabilities at Interlake High School in Bellevue. During her time in the transition program, Paige learned skills in the areas of employment and life skills.
Interlake’s transition program strives to prepare young adults with disabilities who have not yet graduated from high school. In the program, Paige was paired with an employment counselor from the organization AtWork!, who helped her explore different job sites to see what she might be interested in.
According to the Bisbees, Paige tried a couple of job tasks but she didn’t seem interested in them, as she was easily distracted. Paige’s counselor realized she was a “social butterfly” and needed to be in an environment where she could engage with others. The AtWork! counselor helped identify the things Paige was good at and the things that interested her, then the counselor matched her with a specified job at David Wright Tremaine Litigation law firm in Bellevue, who advocates for inclusive employment. The law firm currently employs two AtWork! clients.
The Bisbees were thankful.
“We thought she would never work and what [that] was going to be like,” Gene Bisbee said. “Now she is working and who knows what she’ll do next… [we’re] happy that someone else is looking out for your kid. You’re not on your own.”
Rebecca Bisbee added that once they accepted the facts, they were hopeful for their daughter’s future.
“She’s far exceeded anything from what the [doctors] said,” she said. “We’re happy that she’s done so well. We never thought she would have a job.”
AtWork! in Bellevue is an organization that empowers people with disabilities to be productive, integrated and contributing members of their communities. AtWork! is an innovative conduit that connects people with disabilities and employers in the community, according to the organization’s website. The organization focuses on the employer’s needs and the job seeker’s needs by strategizing, designing and creating jobs that are valuable, meaningful and beneficial to everyone involved.
The organization has been around for longer than 50 years and has moved into integrated community employment and moved away from segregated and isolated kinds of services like sheltered workshops, where many disabled individuals would end up.
“Employers are beginning to recognize that it’s not like charity,” said AtWork! CEO Chris Brandt. “People with disabilities really can contribute.”
Before the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people with disabilities faced discrimination and were seen as “limited.” But in the last couple of decades, they too are being included and hired. Since 2006, AtWork! has served over 400 new people with disabilities. They’ve secured 327 successful job placements in more than 216 businesses including Costco, Boeing, Microsoft, Goodwill, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, and many more.
“We want to serve as many people as we can,” said vice president of mission services Wally Tablit. “Everyone deserved the right to be placed in their community through employment.”
Washingtonians with disabilities are employed at less than half the rate of those without disabilities, according to the State Division of Vocational Rehabilitation’s 2017 Disability and DVR Report. Data shows that an estimated 38.6 percent of working age individuals with disabilities are employed, compared to 76.4 percent of people without disabilities.
Washington State has employed 177,921 individuals. People with disabilities are employed in the same types of industries of those without disabilities. About 32 percent of people with disabilities work in management, business, science and arts; 22.2 percent work in sales and office occupations; 21.2 percent work in service occupations; 13.5 percent work in production, transportation and material moving; 11.1 percent work in natural resources, construction and maintenance.
In King County alone, 101,760 people with disabilities have been hired in the cities of Bellevue, Redmond, Kent, SeaTac, Seattle Mercer and Seattle North.
With emphasize on relationship, the AtWork! team and counselor paired Paige with the international law firm, Davis Wright Tremaine and they give testament of how much life and joy Paige brings into their demanding office schedule. down syndrome
Office administrator Deb Zaha previously stated in an article that when they hired Paige in 2016, the benefits were immediate. Everyone at the firm is proud of the fact that they have been able to accommodate Paige and Arthur Hwang who is also an AtWork! client hired at the law firm. Hwang works loading paper into printing machines and cleaning the staff room.
“It’s been an unexpectedly positive situation for us,” said Zaha. “I just didn’t realize what an impact it would have on the office morale. Having Paige and Hwang be able to fill the roles that they do has really helped with efficiencies among the staff in terms of the work.”
With the help of AtWork!, the law firm created a cart for Paige to push around the office. She walks around the office, with the support of her current employment counselor, handing out snacks and office supplies to her coworkers. Paige also delivers mail around the office in a cart that was specifically brought in for her. Paige’s current AtWork! employment counselor, Emily Lord, helps her navigate the cart around the office twice a week. Lord provides one-on-one support for Paige, as she needs help navigating around the office and communicating verbally.
“Paige is so happy and so proud of herself in her job,” Lord said. “It just makes me want to get up in the morning and help her even more than I can.”
Prior to hiring Paige and Hwang, Zaha recalls sitting down with the AtWork! team and trying to figure out what holes needed filling within the staff support. Together they looked for where the law firm could use more assistance, thus creating positions for both Hwang and Paige. Their job positions are tasks that need to be done in the office and both work for and earn minimum wage. And according to the staff, the office runs much more smoothly with the help of Paige and Hwang.
Davis Wright Tremaine staff and attorneys said they were initially hesitant and worried about hiring people with disabilities. They believed it would be more work for them in their already demanding schedule. They were wrong, and they’ve since changed their perspective.
“When Paige and Arthur show up, everyone lights up,” said staff employee Tim Bui. “It’s a huge morale booster. Whenever I see them, it brings a huge smile to my face. They [both] do a lot for the office. The office runs more efficiently with them. It’s not like they’re doing tasks that don’t matter.”
Davis Wright Tremaine is passionate about embracing diversity and inclusion in their offices. Their partnership with AtWork! is a testament that there is a place for people with disabilities, no matter the industry.
“It benefits everybody,” Zaha said. “People will be pleasantly surprised what [individuals] with disabilities are able to do. It’s a positive experience all around. I think everyone should do it.”
To learn about AtWork!, go online to www.atworkwa.org.