CLEVELAND (WJW) – For many, it’s easy to take the benefits of having a job for granted, but for one in four adults in the U.S. who has a disability, getting and keeping a job can be a real challenge.

“I don’t know about you, but I remember my first paycheck. It wasn’t very big, but it gave me a sense of power. It gave me a sense of independence. I mattered. I was valued,” said Susie Barragate, President and CEO of Vocational Guidance Services.

Barragate tells Fox 8 News, Vocational Guidance Services creates pathways for individuals with disabilities to gain employment, more independence, and engage in their community.

“What we know is, it’s those micro relationships that we create within a community that really make a person feel whole, and so that’s why the day programming is so important,” said Barragate. “We also help them learn how to be out in the community, how to go to the library, how to go to the grocery store and go shopping, and how to open a bank account.”

Barragate says individuals with disabilities report a higher incidence of depression, feeling disconnected, and lack of support.

That’s why VGS’ intake process is individualized, to understand what success looks like for each person.

For one 62-year-old woman, success meant learning how to read. After years of being told no, her rehabilitation specialist, Willie Bedell, said patience is the key.

“Everyone can learn at their own rate. Just give them a chance and also time,” said Bedell. “Now, at this point, I have Debbie up to what, 30 words?”

VGS also offers vocational training. So, whether individuals take paid work opportunities within VGS’ facility or elsewhere, they have the skills to keep their job.

“You have to get up on time. If you’re sick, you have to call in. You have to have an alarm clock. What happens if I’m at work and I’m having a problem? Who do I go to?” said Barragate.

One of the most important things Vocational Guidance Services does is break down barriers for individuals with disabilities and clear up employer misconceptions.

“Oh, it’s going to be expensive to hire somebody with a disability, they’re going to be absent more than somebody without a disability, they’re going to need extra help, helping to dispel some of those myths with employers and help them understand that often, accommodations can be very inexpensive and very easy. You just have to ask,” said Barragate.

VGS partners with private and public businesses, and with the help of a coach, individuals with disabilities can take steps toward permanent placement. They even have a paid summer youth program.

Each experience is a supportive environment that Barragate says we can all learn from.

“People ask me all the time, ‘Well, how do I interact with somebody who has a disability?’” said Barragate. “Like a friend. I think it’s really important to understand that individuals who have disabilities are not their disability. They are a person, they’re an individual, they have all the same wants, needs, and rights that you and I do.”

Through partnerships, Vocational Guidance Services was able to pay individuals with disabilities approximately $4.5 million dollars in wages last year.

If you’d like to support their efforts, the organization has two upcoming charitable events. Click here for more information.