Hundreds of people depend on Aaron Turner Jr. to do his job right.
For starters, Lawrence High School physical education students depend on him. So do members of the Aquahawks swim team, as well as people enrolled in Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department swim classes.
Turner, a 30-year-old Lawrence native who cannot speak, keeps the pool clean that all these people swim in the Carl Knox Natatorium on the LHS campus.
Since June, he has worked the graveyard shift there as a custodian, hired through a supported employment program run by Full Citizenship, Inc., an agency that helps people with disabilities, many of which are developmental in nature.
``Supported employment'' helps community residents with disabilities find jobs, learn job reponsibilities and resolve on-the-job problems and assists employers in working with employees with disabilities.
ACCORDING TO statistics compiled by Full Citizenship, Turner is one of 74 community residents now employed through such programs. Another 96 people are "job ready" and actively seeking supported employment, 89 are on a waiting list and 144 are employed in sheltered workshops.
In addition to Full Citizenship, other local agencies that offer supported employment or job placement programs for people with disabilities are Cottonwood, Inc., Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, Community Living Opportunities (CLO), Independence Inc., the Kansas Elks Training Center for the Handicapped, which works through the state Social and Rehabilitation Services office here, and, for students, the Lawrence public schools.
Assisted in an interview by Sybil Jones, Full Citizenship's employment coordinator, Turner explained the LHS job helps him support his 9-year-old daughter, Jasmine.
IN TURNER'S case, Jones said, he held a number of jobs before his state vocational rehabilitation counselor referred him to Full Citizenship's supported employment program last year.
Turner's disability does not impair his mobility, but 46-year-old Barbara Lumley's does. She has chronic, progressive multiple sclerosis.
Diagnosed 10 years ago, she began using a wheelchair six years ago. Today the MS has progressed to the point her right side is paralyzed. She wears a splint on her right hand and forearm to keep her hand from curling into a fist, her speech is affected, and she no longer can stand unassisted or walk.
Through the SRS' self-directed program, though, Ms. Lumley remains in her own home, hires her own help and takes care of her own service dog 2-year-old Ashley, who came from the Kansas Specialty Dog Service in Washington.
"I'VE SPENT half my life in Lawrence," she said during an interview last week. "I own my house and, as far as I'm concerned, I'll stay there the rest of my life."
Both Ms. Lumley and Turner benefit from community-based programs that didn't exist even a few years ago.
Ms. Lumley said she was one of the first five Kansans to launch SRS' self-directed program, "and I just love it."
"Basically, I decide who works for me and when I want them to work," she explained, noting she currently receives 33 hours of assistance a week from SRS and has requested 14 more.
When one of her three personal attendants is not with her, she relies on Ashley and on various monitors in her home hooked up to community emergency service agencies.
UNLIKE THE able-bodied Turner, Ms. Lumley is unable to work but she leads a busy life. In addition to handling her own personal-care affairs, she undergoes weekly physical therapy sessions as well as an at-home exercise regimen that employs a special "stand-up table" to fight osteoporosis.
She's also learning computers as a hobby through classes offered by Independence Inc., which now handles most of her transportation needs, and she tends to Ashley.
Her favorite recreation, she said, is shopping.
"Mainly, I like to shop at Wal-Mart, and when I get into Kansas City, I love Penney's outlet."
She also has a 22-year-old daughter, Amy, who is a student at Kansas University, and a "loyal" corps of friends.
Lawrence, she said, is a "quiet little town compared to where I grew up" in New Jersey.
"THERE ARE places that are hesitant to modify" for wheelchairs, she said, "but nine times out of 10, I get where I want to be."
Turner seemed relatively pleased with his current situation as well. He indicated he enjoying working at LHS, his alma mater, and hoped eventually to move to the day shift.
Gerald Bulleigh, LHS head custodian and Turner's supervisor, said Turner's job is to vacuum the pool's bottom, scrub its sides and hose down the perimeter and locker room every night to help maintain necessary sanitary conditions.
That work takes him about five hours, and then he's off to clean the school's west gym.
Bulleigh said Turner communicates to him with gestures and sometimes draws pictures.
"YOU HAVE to kind of watch his hands and body language," Bulleigh said, adding they have encountered some problems understanding each other.
Either can turn to Jones for assistance.
R.M. Stineman of Full Citizenship said that collectively the local supported employment efforts reflect a national trend toward establishing better community-centered services for people with disabilities.
Many recreational and residential programs are in place, he said, and the employment programs are being developed based on a growing body of research that shows them to be cost effective. The research, he said, also shows "people tend to be most successful if leading as normal a life as possible."