Their Voice: Helping the disabled in the workforce
In an ongoing effort to highlight and celebrate the month of October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month, I want to address the personal side of working side by side with individuals from this population.
I found an article posted last October by the Occupational Development Center called “13 Benefits of Hiring Developmental Disabled Employees.” In reviewing some of these benefits, my experience indicates that these benefits are also true for being a co-worker or even customer of this workforce.
The first benefit mentioned, and one to which I can attest, is that “employers love them.” The explanation given by ODC is that employees with developmental disabilities “win over their employer’s and customers’ hearts.” I find this to be true as well with those with whom I have worked and continue to work. I have learned over the past six years that employees with disabilities really want to do a good job and are always open to feedback and change. Additionally, in any role in which they deal directly with customers, they are friendly, engaging and want to provide the best service. They do not show indifference or apathy to customers or co-workers. The majority want to come to work every day and make a positive contribution in the workplace.
This leads to another of the 13 benefits referenced “they have staying power.” According to the article “unlike some of their peers, the developmentally disabled are grateful to have a job and do not seek new employment regularly. This results in lower turnover and higher retention.” Although I also have found this to be true, I also believe that true integrative employment will allow people with disabilities to feel the freedom to continue to seek new, challenging positions and feel as secure in doing so as their non-disabled peers.
The final point I would like to address specifically is that “customers like them.” While I do agree that in general, most customers do respond favorably to people with visible disabilities, I have also observed situations in which customers have not responded as favorably to employees whose disabilities are not apparent. Sometimes, in our haste to just get through our business interaction we do recognize that the person assisting us may require a little extra time or thought to complete the task accurately.
I applaud those businesses in our communities who do hire individuals with disabilities and put them in similar positions as those without instead of segregating them to stereotypical jobs that leave them will few opportunities to grow and expand their skills.
I encourage everyone who does business with companies who hire and promote people with disabilities to do two things. First, show patience and willingness to work with those employees. Understand that in some situations, these employees are working through anxiety and fear of making mistakes and may take a little longer to complete a transaction. Give them the security of knowing that you are willing to give them that time and overcome that fear.
Second, I encourage you to acknowledge to those employers who do give individuals with disabilities the opportunity to not only work but have jobs that are meaningful to them. The more that we patronize these businesses and acknowledge their commitment, the better chance people with disabilities will have to continue to grow in our workforce.
This is the workforce that was intended to be created through American’s With Disabilities Act (ADA) and this is the workforce in which we can all be proud to support.
This article is dedicated to my good friends and co-workers: Melanie, Emily, Ben and Max-thanks for all you do to make our company a better place to be.