Work Autonomy App Helps Employees Take Charge


As an employment specialist, you work hard to try and get the person you support into a job, keep the job, and enjoy the work with as much independence as possible. A lack of strong accommodation can slow this process.  Often, this is a lot for anyone to juggle.

Jennifer White is the Director and CEO of Able Opportunities, Inc., a Hansville, Washington corporation dedicated to innovative solutions to the challenges facing supported employees. She has developed the Work Autonomy App, available on iTunes for Apple Devices, designed to help empower supported employees by connecting them to their work in new ways.

As White puts it, one of the goals of Able Opportunities is to “fade the job coach from the scene.” While job coaches are certainly important components to finding and keeping work, it makes sense to move toward helping the supported employee take charge of their own work, from understanding each and every step of the day’s labors to being able to communicate clearly to supervisors. Work Autonomy is designed for the employee to capture all of this information themselves.

Capturing Processes and Expectations

The Work Autonomy App is broken down into three parts: Schedule, Communication, and Production.  The Scheduling section helps the employee capture and understand all of the different components of a job. “For example, if I am training you to clean computers at a hospital, you’ll find that you have different people working and not working in their cubicles, requiring communication and tracking of a lot of workstations and other situations,” White explains. “Understanding this work might take a high level of training and ongoing support, to make sure the skillset is maintained.  The Work Autonomy App is made so that the person captures and references the expectation of the job by themselves.”

With the App, the employee takes video, photo, text, or voice recordings to note the expectations of the job. “So if you have to go to a closet to get your equipment,” White continues, “instead of being coached repeatedly, on the step, on that first day, the employee is supported by the job coach to capture tasks and steps for each task on the app. How it’s captured depends on their needs—maybe the person needs the video to see clearly, maybe they need the voice over. It’s specific to the person.”

Despite its simplicity, the Work Autonomy App is complex enough to work with the specific needs of the individual. “Once the employee finishes capturing it all, the App will ask for the parameters of the job,” White notes. “We work with employers to determine expectations and then the employee to capture them. Do you want the work timed? Are we counting up or counting down as you have cleaned your, say, ten computers?” Once you’ve set those, when we run the program, and you touch the name of the tasks, the parameters come up next to the schedule as a timer, counter and/or clock. Data from those parameters are automatically going to a bar chart and pie chart to track progress.

Making High Turnover Less Stressful

What White finds most important about the App is its ability to help make transitions less stressful. She notes that for persons in supported employment, the support people in their life will rotate through at an often alarming rate. She points out that in Washington State, the turnover rate for employees in residential support is 67%. And managers are often promoted, or leave for myriad reasons. “What I want is for you to stay successful after I’m gone,” White says. With the Work Autonomy App capturing the work, and monitoring progress and success, new managers and job coaches have a detailed file of information to help make these transitions much easier. And the employee has a reliable system that supports their continued independence and success.

Tools for Inspiration and Success

Seeking new methods to communicate and improve the lives of the people you support is one of the foundations of being an employment specialist, and the DirectCourse/College of Employment Services curriculum can help give employment support professionals the foundations they need to become innovators themselves.  The work of Jennifer White and Able Opportunities, Inc. are examples of seeking innovative ways of improving the lives not just of the supported employees with whom they work, but the job coaches, and employers as well.

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