Your self-directed employment assistant

Picture of JenJen Onsum is a Jen-of-all-trades, a consultant who works in PR, Marketing, and also moonlights as a staff member at a concert hall. However, there’s one role that she is especially proud of, and that is her position working on two Department of Human Resources projects as an Olmstead Interviewer. Jen was gracious enough to let me pick her brain by answering some framing questions so I could further understand the importance of her job.

In a nutshell, how would you sum up your profession?

Since January 2017 I have been employed by a healthcare research consulting company working on two projects for the DHS, helping to achieve a better and person-centered life for people living with disabilities.

I have worked as an Olmstead Interviewer for the Olmstead Quality of Life survey. I visited group homes, day programs, assisted living facilities, long-term care centers and private homes to meet with people with disabilities (and sometimes their family, legal guardians and caregivers) to ask them the survey questions. The survey typically took an hour and asked a variety of questions related to daily activities, social activities, decision-making and who makes decisions about various aspects of their life, close relationships, the use of assistive technology and asking them to rate their quality of life in 13 different areas. This was to measure how integrated in the community people with disabilities are, how much control they have over their life, in general what kind of relationships people with disabilities have with others and get a feel for if their quality of life is good, bad or in between, and what the State could do better.

I have also worked as a Home and Community Based Services Attestation Reviewer. In this project I have been reviewing attestations and supportive documentation submitted by residential service providers of customized living to determine whether or not the providers are meeting the State Settings Rule for person-centered practices and making sure providers are giving residents control over their daily schedule and life, are being given opportunities to be engaged in the community, are getting their privacy, are being treated with dignity and respect, and are having their interests and preferences being met.

This position of yours, Olmstead Interviewer, sounds fascinating! How did you find this particular career in the first place? What specifically drew you to it?

I wasn’t actively seeking new or additional employment at the time, but a friend posted the opening on Facebook and it caught my attention. I liked that it was something that would have a positive impact on peoples’ lives, as doing something positive and meaningful has always been important to me. I felt that it was something that I could physically do despite my physical limitations and on a flexible schedule, and that it was something that I could use both my professional and personal experiences and skills in with success. I have a background in Public Relations and Health Information Technology, so the communication, research, data and medical terminology skills seemed to be a good fit, and then living with a disability myself, I felt I would be very successful in relating to and understanding the survey participants and things I would probably hear, and also be able to establish a unique connection with them so they would feel comfortable opening up to me and sharing their life with me.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of holding this position?

One of the best parts is seeing how excited and happy the participants are to even just have someone come visit with them, much less want to hear about their life and what they have to say. They like to show you around and show you things like their bedroom or garden, or what they are working on in school or at work. It’s knowing that I have impacted their day and will have at least an indirect impact on their life.

What has been the most challenging or arduous aspect of holding this position?

Being able to keep my schedule open to take participant meetings in relationship to my own PCA scheduling was more challenging than I thought it would be. In this day and age of home care staffing issues you just never know when your own staff will suddenly quit or call-in, impacting your own ability to work. Fortunately my managers have been understanding and willing to work with me, even offering me other project-related work that I could do independently from home.

What advice or wisdom do you wish to impart on our Punch-In members, many of whom are starting out on their careers?

I think it’s really important to be realistic about your capabilities. I’m all for having dreams and passions and going for them, but you have to be honest with yourself about what you realistically can do with the limitations your disability imposes on you. Sometimes we forget our limits when chasing dreams. With that said, think creatively and outside the box to find ways of going for your goals and what you want to do.

Thanks so much to Jen for her time and words! If you’d like to learn more about her you can check out her personal page here.

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Comment by Erika J. Kluge on February 20, 2018 at 2:03pm

Great article and I think the advice to be realistic about your capabilities but to also to think outside of the box and chase your dreams is great for everyone, regardless of having a disability. As a mother, and a teacher, I often consider the balance of not wanting to squelch someone's dreams but guiding them to find all the possibilities that spark their passions and align with his or her strengths. To remain a perpetual learner and self-evaluator can help one go far.  

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