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Jessica Maracavitch happily wears a fast-food restaurant uniform twice a week.
It's only a part-time job, but that may change for Maracavitch and other clients of ACHIEVA/The Arc of Greater Pittsburgh.
Maracavitch, 36, of New Derry works for two hours each workday at the Burger King near Latrobe.
But change is on the menu for Maracavitch and hundreds of others in Westmoreland and Allegheny counties.
A process is underway to gradually close sheltered workshops like the one near Greensburg, where Maracavitch received much of her training and support from ACHIEVA.
Based on a federal initiative, by the end of 2018, state officials are working to move all sheltered workshop participants who are able to work into jobs in the community for at least 50 percent of their work week and up to 75 percent of the work week by March 1, 2019.
A Wilkinsburg workshop closed earlier this year, and the Greensburg workshop is scheduled to close by the end of the year.
Individual transition plans will guide workshop participants and families. The change means many in the sheltered workshops, where they get training and even an assistant to accompany them to private workplaces, will have to cope in the at-large employment market.
“That is scaring some of our older families,” said Shayne Roos, vice president of ACHIEVA.
Roos said ACHIEVA, which primarily serves Westmoreland and Allegheny clients and families, “will work to reduce whatever community barriers that exist for them.”The program assists about 500 vocational clients. It was started in 1951 to give children and adults with disabilities the same opportunities in life that others have. ACHIEVA is the parent of The Arc of Pittsburgh, one of 33 Arcs across the state.
Years ago, people lived in institutions, said Nancy Murray, the Arc of Greater Pittsburgh‘s executive director.
Then, efforts were made to help people with disabilities succeed in society as much as possible. Many have graduated from high school as society “mainstreamed” as many people as possible, she said.
But society “hasn't caught up with the employment segment,” Murray noted.
Many are getting jobs, paying taxes and voting, Murray said.
Other clients, however, deal with complex disability and medical issues.
“They may not be able to work 40 hours a week. It may be only 10 hours. But that doesn't mean they can't be in the community,” Murray said.
“For those people who cannot be employed, they volunteer, and there are wonderful opportunities,” she said. “Maybe they can help to walk dogs at animal shelters. Maybe they can help at a library.”
Chuck Biedka is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-226-4711 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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