The mother of an intellectually disabled 34-year-old was among those who testified at a special hearing held in conjunction with the Special Olympics U-S-A National Games underway in Ames. Peggy Whitworth of Cedar Rapids says she had to engage in “a bit of drama” to help her son land a job in the work world and make the transition to adulthood.
Her son, Patrick, lives in a group home and works at the Linn County Administration building. Whitworth says after Patrick was let go from a job in the private sector, she found out her son was eligible for a federal program that helps the handicapped find jobs.
Patrick now works as a clerical assistant. “Shredding documents and stuffing mailers and things like that,” Whitworth says. “He has succeeded to the point that he got an award for outstanding customer service, not as the handicapped kid doing outstanding customer service just as a person.”
Whitworth says the job as given her son a sense of self-worth. “When we drive around he says things to me like ‘You know, I like my life,'” Whitworth says. During the Senate hearing held in Ames, Whitworth advocated for more federal money for programs that help the handicapped land jobs and contribute to society.
“Right now everything’s terrific” for her son, according to Whitworth, but she says she lives “in fear” that something will change. “Yes, Patrick’s life is really great right now but it’s always very tenuous,” Whitworth says.
Whitworth is urging federal officials to spend more money on helping adults who have an intellectual disability find and keep jobs. “Right now there are a fair number of really terrific programs up ’til you’re 21 and then those kind of drift away,” Whitworth says. “With the potential labor shortage this is a significant labor pool that if worked with and educated correctly can do an awful lot of jobs.”