By Maureen Casey
Encouraging and helping people with autism and other neurodiversities receive the COVID-19 vaccine is an important way we can more quickly return to our regular activities, including all-important employment. Before the pandemic, over 75% of residents of First Place–Phoenix, a supportive housing community for people with autism, Down syndrome, traumatic brain injuries and other different abilities, were engaged in vocational activities.
Many First Place residents were the first in the community to be furloughed at the start of and throughout the pandemic. Instead of leaving for jobs or volunteer opportunities each day, they found themselves confined to the property. To address this limitation, more than 1,200 community events were hosted last year – each including temperature checks, disinfecting, limited participation and physical distancing. The silver lining included more shared activities through on-site volunteer initiatives like Kind It Forward and more than 4,500 acts of kindness! The collective memory of what we achieved and celebrated continues building our community and friendships.
As a supportive housing provider, access to vaccinations is an important way to support the health and wellness of residents and students. First Place recently collaborated with Scottsdale Physicians Group to provide COVID-19 vaccines. Many individuals with autism need specific information detailing the process. To address this, we developed a plan that included a series of emails and webinars to introduce the opportunity, explain the process and answer questions. We learned about helpful ways to prepare for getting vaccinated, including bringing along a comfort item and planning simple, post-vaccine meals.
This brief video of the vaccination drive offers added insights into lessons learned from start to finish.
We also shared some of those lessons with other community collaborators and assisted with planning and staffing the Special Olympics COVID-19 vaccine events at Ability360. This amazing local nonprofit and advocate for people with disabilities and their families provided access for individuals with developmental disabilities and physical disabilities, as well as those who are deaf, hard of hearing or blind.
To date, approximately 80% of First Place residents and Transition Academy students have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. We’re especially excited about employment partner The Precisionists, Inc.’s newest Innovation & Technology Center just opened in Phoenix. We continue reaching out to our existing and actively seeking prospective employment partners and look forward to supporting one another as we dust off resumes, choose the right professional look and get back to work—something everyone has been talking about for months!
Maureen Casey is director of the First Place Global Leadership Institute’s The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation Center for Public Policy & Colonel Harland Sanders Center for Applied Research.