OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Finding a job can be a tough task for people with disabilities but a Johnson County program aims to make things easier moving forward.
In March 2016, Johnson County Developmental Supports started Papercrete Works.
The program offers people with intellectual and developmental disabilities an opportunity for a full-time job working with papercrete, a construction mixture made from repurposed paper fibers, cement and water.
The material is then used by the program to make artwork and decorative pieces.
The program has provided around half a dozen jobs for individuals with developmental disabilities but organizers hope to offer almost two dozen positions in the future.
“It’s a creative way to provide hourly wages to these individuals,” explained supervisor Micah Wickstrom. "Being able to find employment in the community where all of our individuals can adapt easily or even with moderate effort can be a little difficult."
With October being National Disability Employment Awareness Month, the White House released statistics showing only 27 percent of disabled Americans with jobs in 2016.
Wickstrom said people with developmental disabilities can face an even tougher task finding employment.
"Sometimes jobs can require that you are able to do fine motor skills,” Wickstrom said. “Not all of our individuals are going to have those skills. Having to write clearly and legibly is a fine skill. Having to put small items in small boxes would be a fine skill."
Participants can earn an hourly wage performing tasks like shredding paper for the papercrete, pouring mixtures, and painting decorative items.
On Monday, Wickstrom said it was rewarding to watch individuals perform well at the jobs.
"It's a good stepping stone. It's experience for community employment,” she explained. "Knowing that, through papercrete, I'm able to provide an opportunity that someone may not have gotten otherwise, it feels good."
The Papercrete Works program was made possible through a grant from the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission.
The InterUrban ArtHouse in Overland Park has provided space for the group to do its work.
Organizers put the items made by the workers on display in downtown Overland Park on the third Friday of every month.
All money raised from the sales goes back to the program.