I recently read about a survey done in regards to adults with developmental disabilities and unemployment. The results were staggering as they concluded that over 85% of people living with a developmental disability were unemployed. I had to reread the statistic to really let it sink in. In my initial reaction, I had not even factored in the possibility that out of the 15% of people who actually were employed, there may have been people who were severely underemployed or working for significantly less than minimum wage at sheltered workshops.
Unfortunately, I believe that the soaring 85% unemployment rate for disabled adults is just something that we have accepted as normal. After working alongside people with developmental disabilities professionally for over ten years, I whole heartedly believe that there is a better way, and I am determined to be a part of a solution that empowers people with disabilities but also brings the necessary support when needed. I know this is not a dream that can come true overnight, but I want to share a few things that I have concluded over the years about hiring people with disabilities.
There are many reasons to hire someone with a disability, but I have just outlined a few that stand out to me… Not just because it is the noble and charitable thing to do, but because it makes sense and is in the best interest of both the person with a disability and your business.
1. People with disabilities are loyal and committed
– If you are experienced in working with folks with developmental disabilities, you will agree with me that they have extremely high job retention and low turnover rates. This quality is good hiring practice for any business or organization. In my work at Dutton Farm, absences are extremely rare. I have grown so accustomed to seeing our fellow employees with disabilities every work day that I become deeply concerned if anyone is absent without previous notice. They just show up, rain or shine, good day or bad day, they will simply be there.
2. People with disabilities boost morale
– Every work place can benefit from a greater commitment to diversity and inclusion. Again, it’s good business practice. With autism on the rise, it is highly likely that many of your employees have a personal connection with someone with a disability, and will not only embrace a culture of inclusion but will be proud to be a part of a business or organization that is committed to hiring people with disabilities. Multiple surveys have shown that many people are unsatisfied with their current job and want to feel like they are making a difference and not just punching a time clock.
3. People with disabilities work hard
– The world that we live in is not really built for people with disabilities. Sure, we have adapted it in recent years to be more accommodating, but there are still significant inconveniences in every-day life for people with disabilities. As a result, I have co-workers that have either physical, mental or emotional impairments who have developed absolutely incredible ways to adapt to the world in which they live. My friends are creative and innovative as they find a way to get the job done. People with disabilities have learned to work hard and smart just to navigate their every-day life, and this is an incredible asset that they bring to the work place as well.
4. People with disabilities have many ABILITIES
– Too often, people who have disabilities are defined by a particular diagnosis or impairment. Other people cannot (or choose not to) see beyond the inability to solve a math equation, read a book or drive a car and therefore believe that they are incapable of anything profitable and thus are perceived to be only consumers and never contributers. This belief is not only absolutely and completely false, but has created a system that chooses to subsidize a person’s entire existence rather than allowing them the privilege to get help where they need it but also find independence and dignity by contributing where they are able. An individual that I work with is a fantastic greeter at a local business. He has a winning personality and his charm is hard to resist. He has a disability and was unable to find employment after losing his first job right out of high school. He is almost 50 years old, which means he was unemployed for 30 years before finding an employer that saw his ABILITY and chose to hire him. Don’t get me wrong, I am so grateful for this opportunity for my friend, but I have a dream that one day people with disabilities like my friend won’t have to wait 30 years for their chance at employment.
We are all created differently, with many unique gifts and talents that make us special, but we all were created with equal value. We all deserve the chance to go after our dreams and we all deserve the right to be treated with dignity. I hope that one day the pendulum starts to swing in the other direction where we embrace a new normal where people with disabilities are not only included in the workforce, but are seen as an asset with incredible valuable to the health and success of the operation.