Diagnosed: A Small-town Success Story Of Employment

Oct 25, 2018

Payton "Max" Johnson of Tropic, Utah

In 2017, the unemployment rate in the United States fell across the board. But fewer than 19 percent of people with disabilities were employed, compared with more than 65 percent of the general population, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Among people actively looking for work, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is more than double that of the general population.

When you consider that per capita, more people with disabilities live in rural areas than in cities, you might expect employment to be an especially big hurdle. But for one young man in Garfield County, disabilities haven’t kept him out of the workplace. 

“An important thing in our family and in the culture of our family is that everyone has a job," said Tracy Johnson of Tropic, Utah, about four hours south of Salt Lake City. "And so he’s worked since he was 15.”

She was talking about her son Payton—but Payton goes by Max. He has Down syndrome and anxiety. His brother Hayden is also a support-employment specialist who has coached Max.

"Success in finding employment and maintaining employment is just a willingness to do it," he said. "Living in Tropic, there are only about 500 people there, so there are a lot of really good benefits. I think Payton had about 11 other kids in his class. We knew everybody in the community, everybody knew Payton. It was easy for him to get a job. He knew people, people knew his work ethic and his personality, so it was really easy for him to transition out and people were really willing to give him a lot of opportunities."

Max works over the summer in the Bryce Canyon bookstore. Shawn Chynoweth is Max’s supervisor.

“We found a place for Max that would help in our workforce but also provide a situation that was good for him," Shawn said.

“He has a pattern that he follows every morning, and he has a certain order that all of it is done and taken place in, and so he’s very particular about how he stocks the store.

“Max is a fantastic employee. He’s dependable. He’s here when he’s scheduled to be here and he loves to come to work. He gets his work done, sometimes it’s on his own time frame, but he’s very dependable and very precise in his work.

Max in the bookstore at Bryce Canyon National Park
Credit Paula Henrie / Natural History Association bookstore

Max stocks the stuffed animals in the bookstore, including the singing stuffed birds. He also does work at a desk in Paula Henrie’s office.

"One thing that I really enjoy with Max is, I guess you could call it the Disney Hour," Paula said. "I sit down with Max and we listen to the Disney music and it’s kind of a break for me, too, and Max and I sing together and listen to the music and do our work.

"While he’s there it really helps motivate him. We’ve found that money doesn’t motivate Max as much as letting him listen to music or giving him a Disney pin. He loves the princesses. And so those things really motivate him to get his work done and keep busy."

"Quite frequently he’ll bring things to share with staff," Shawn said, "like the miniature candy bars. He buys that on his own.”

“When Max first came it was a little hard to understand sometimes," Paula said, "but as the years have gone on and as we’ve gotten to know Max, he talks, we can understand him, we know what his needs and wants are and he does a good job communicating with us."

Max’s co-workers help him when needed, which is all that often. And when the bookstore closes in the winter, Max works another job in the city of Provo. Here’s Tracy again.

"Most important, every place that he’s worked, they say he’s always here, he’s here on time, he’s a faithful employee, he can do the work, we don’t need to make accommodations."

Max’s co-workers did say they provided music and let him work on his own time frame—but they also said they don't need to do much to accommodate him.

"The framework in law is that people can ask their employer for reasonable accommodations," said Laura Henrie, associate legal director at the Disability Law Center in Salt Lake City. "An employer does not have to provide an accommodation that would amount to an undue hardship. Those are the magic legal words. So when you’re at whether or not a particular accommodation is reasonable, you’re going to be looking at the resources that the company has available… One way that you can provide a reasonable accommodation is to modify a workplace policy."

Or in Max’s case, they found out what worked and stuck with it.

For more information on access to workplace accommodations, visit the Disability Law Center website.

Support for Diagnosed has been provided in part by our members and Intermountain Budge Clinic, a multi-specialty clinic offering care for every member of your family in one location. Details found here.