Hannah Hibben (Ola) is a 26-year-old McDonough woman who doesn’t let disability define or limit her. Hannah was born with Down syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes an extra copy of the 21st chromosome in a person’s DNA resulting in cognitive and developmental disabilities. But her diagnosis hasn’t stopped Hannah from living a very full life and showing others that people with disabilities have so much to contribute to our workplaces and communities. Through her employment journey, pursuit of independence, self- advocacy efforts, and community involvement, Hannah is blazing a path for other young people with disabilities.
Hannah and her family moved to the Ola community of Henry County in 2006, and she began 5th grade at Ola Elementary. She attended Union Grove Middle School and returned to Ola for high school. At that time, Hannah’s dream job was to work off-stage on the Ellen show. After graduation in 2015, Hannah completed Success Academy, the one-year post-secondary program of Henry County Schools which focuses on vocational training. Success Academy is a community-based transition program for students with intellectual disabilities age 18-22 who have the desire and ability to get a paid job.
The Search for Meaningful Work
Like many young people after high school, Hannah embarked on a path of job exploration. But unlike her neuro-typical peers, the opportunities for work are limited for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities. Employers who do hire individuals with disabilities, find that is rewarding for the individual and the entire team. With the training she received from Success Academy and assistance from vocational rehab, Hannah was excited to begin her part-time work career.
In June 2016, Hannah began working at Great American Cookies in Locust Grove and Berry Mango’s Yogurt Bar in McDonough. She worked at them both until the COVID shut down in March 2020. She enjoyed working alongside people her age and made friendships that have lasted beyond working together.
In June 2018, Hannah added another job to her load! She was hired as the second employee at Work4Eli, a computer recycling service in Conyers. Wrok4Eli is a department of Digital Technology Partners and the brainchild of founder/visionary Jonathan Kendrick, who lives in Ola with his family. His son Eli also has Down syndrome. Currently, Hannah currently works as a part-time e-waste technician at Work4Eli. She degausses hard drives, resulting in certification of erasure and peace of mind for the donor of the computer equipment.
Work4Eli was able to find a way to send Hannah work to do at home over the pandemic shutdown. Cut off from her friends and activities, Hannah was looking for ways to fill her time and discovered she likes to bake. She even sold one of her red velvet cakes over Christmas 2020. When the city began opening again in 2001, Hannah landed a job at Nothing Bundt Cakes in McDonough. During the fall season of 2021, Hannah worked in the bakery at Southern Belle Farm in Ola preparing packaging for the baked goods. She is excited to return to her job for the upcoming Spring 2022 season and hopes to get an opportunity to use some of her baking skills.
Exploring her curiosity about working on set in TV/movie production, Hannah is currently completing a seven-week gig as a production assistant on an MGM movie set being filmed in surrounding communities. She is part of the COVID team of the Health & Safety crew where she is gaining more valuable employment and social experience. In February, Hannah experienced her first two consecutive five-day work weeks of 20 hours each. She was excited when she received her paychecks in the mail and saw what she earned. Previously, her pay was directly-deposited so she didn’t make that connection between the time spent at the job and money in her account. Learning money management and budgeting concepts is important for her future independence.
Each of Hannah's jobs so far have been part-time, competitive, integrated experiences, paying above minimum wage. This is significant because many employers use the 80-year-old Fair Labor standards Act to get away with paying individuals with disabilities well below minimum wage. There are efforts underway to end this unfair practice.
“Hannah understands the “dignity of work” and believes we all have a right to work at something we enjoy. So, she is continually trying new things to create her niche,” Hannah’s mom Debbie Hibben shares.
An employment specialist, funded by the GA Vocational Rehabilitation Agency (GVRA) assists Hannah in finding employers who are a good match, working with the employer to define the job role and helping to train Hannah for the job. However, it is often a struggle to convince employers to set higher expectations and challenge her to try new tasks. Like her peers, Hannah wants to grow and gain new skills on the job. There is a great need for more employers to consider hiring individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities and to have a clear understanding of the roles these individuals can play in their businesses.
“Though nothing in this collaborative effort has been easy, it’s been worth it in the name of ‘teamwork makes the dream work,” remarks Debbie.
A Goal of Independence
In 1999, The U.S. Supreme Court found, in Olmstead v L.C., ruled the unjustified segregation of people with disabilities is a form of unlawful discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The integration mandate requires individuals with disabilities receive services in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs. At the time, this opened the doors to more inclusive education and got many individuals out of institutions and into the home environment. State supported Medicaid Waiver programs enable individuals with disabilities to access home and community-based services, such as transportation, personal care assistance, and employment services, rather than in a more restrictive setting, like an institution.
Hannah was recently awarded a Medicaid waiver, offering paths toward independence which has been her desire since childhood. Hannah is not alone in her desire to move out of mom's house and choose her own living environment. Many of her friends in the Down syndrome community are also working toward that goal. However, there are more than 7,000 people with disabilities in Georgia on the waiting list to get a Medicaid Waiver and state funding is threatened every year.
Debbie says the waiver has helped to give Hannah time and experiences with a support team, which will ultimately lead her to a life more independent of family. Hannah has always seen herself living on her own, away from mom, one day.
“I am playing more of a support tole and less of a leading role in her decisions,” said Debbie.
Hannah Makes a Difference for Herself and Others Through Advocacy
Aside from Hannah’s busy work schedule, Hannah actively participates in the legislative advocacy work of the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities at the state Capitol and is well-known & supported by her local legislators. Hannah was recently named to the Supported Decision-Making council led by the Georgia Advocacy Office and was named the Down Syndrome Association of Atlanta’s Young Adult Advocate of the Year in 2021.
Hannah also participated in two years of “Tomorrow’s Leaders Today” co-sponsored by The Arc of Georgia and the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities.
Building Community in Henry County
Hannah is active and involved in the McDonough community. In 2018, Hannah and her mom moved to the Willow Bend neighborhood in McDonough where she serves on the HOA social committee. She loves to attend church with friends at Hampton First Baptist. She participates in basketball, bocce, and bowling with Henry County Special Olympics and is a founding member of the local team, The Tennis People.
Hannah is also a founding member of Circle 21, a social group in Henry County and surrounding areas designed for young adults with Down syndrome. Its purpose is to give opportunities for them to socialize together and, in doing so, to practice communication & social skills. It began in August 2021 and meets monthly. The time together is also meaningful for parents and caregivers who attend as relationships are honed & participants continue lifelong learning from each other.
Acceptance for Developmental Disabilities
March is developmental disabilities awareness month and March 21 is World Down Syndrome Day. Hannah’s experience is an example of some of the opportunities and challenges facing adults with disabilities. Hannah’s story shows us that people with disabilities desire the same opportunities in life that we all do. Sadly, it takes a lot of effort and support to access opportunities and many doors, and minds, still remained closed. As a society, we need to support efforts to ensure that human rights are protected for our fellow citizens so they have equal access to education in an environment among their peers, that employers are encouraged to hire people with disabilities, pay a living wage, and give them meaningful work, and supports and accommodations are available so people with disabilities can live, work, and play in their own communities. Our communities will be enriched in doing so.
Local World Down Syndrome Day Events
McDonough, March 20
Henry County Circle 21+ Adult Networking Group, sponsored by the Down Syndrome Association of Atlanta and in recognition of World Down Syndrome Day the following day: 3.21, is hosting a Dessert Social for young adults out of high school, from 2-4 p.m. Free to attend but please RSVP.
Buddy Kelly Park
1605 Kellytown Rd.
McDonough, GA 30252
Contact: Debbie Hibben 770-262-7021
Monroe, March 20
Come out for a fun afternoon at the park from 2 - 5 p.m.! There will be a bouncy house, Kona ice, and more!
Bold Springs Park
On Bold Springs Rd. behind fire station
Griffin, March 20
The 8th Annual World Down Syndrome Day Jogging for Max and Jude 5k kicks off at 4:30 p.m.. Register and RSVP.
200 E. Poplar Street, Griffin GA
Contact Lindsey: Lindsey.firstname.lastname@example.org
Hampton, March 21
Councilman Devlin Cleveland is hosting a World Down Syndrome Day Celebration from 6-8 p.m.
22 East Main Street, Hampton, GA
Jennifer Sheran is the publisher of Macaroni Kid McDonough-Stockbridge and is the mother of an 11-year old son who has Down syndrome. Here is more on their story.