In today’s economy, “Help Wanted” signs are visible everywhere. Employers are eagerly searching to fill their vacancies as the unemployment rate reaches an all-time low. As a professional who has been in the human services field for more years than I care to reveal, it is inspiring and refreshing to now be at the receiving end of phone calls, e-mails, and inquiries from businesses interested in matching and filling their open positions with adults with developmental disabilities.

In past years, getting in the door to meet prospective employers to promote our clientele and their capabilities was a continuous struggle, but companies now embrace our clients. They see firsthand the value this workforce can bring to the company and its employees with their strong work ethic, reliability, and motivation to work. It is not uncommon for our clients, once hired, to become long-term employees.

As individuals with developmental disabilities are now recognized as a more sought-after workforce, it has afforded these adults the opportunity to be more selective in their job choices as well. Graduates from schools and/or adult programs are more trained and skilled in technical positions than ever before. Whereas frequently this population would begin a career in entry level and minimum wage positions, current beginning hourly wages for adults with disabilities have averaged from $11-$15 per hour in jobs such as food service worker, car detailer, picker/packer, activities assistant, sortation worker, and graphic designer.

Studies have shown that hiring workers with disabilities is not only the right thing to do, but smart business. Workers with disabilities have shown to have reduced turnover rates. Adults with disabilities work hard to find a suitable job that they feel they will succeed in. Often times, our consumers remain long-term, stable employees, thus reducing employer costs of staff training and retention.

Another benefit of hiring a worker with disabilities? Ongoing support from the agency and the job developer that assisted in placing them. Businesses experience higher productivity rates due to innovative job restructuring as well as the ability to address unmet needs in tough economic times.

In the past, accommodations for workers with disabilities had been seen by employers as a potentially costly endeavor and a barrier to hiring those workers. However, most accommodations will benefit others in the workplace as well. For example, a large manufacturing company was looking to hire individuals with disabilities. The employer was proactive in making changes to assist the potential new employees in feeling more comfortable. They installed signs with pictures to minimize the need for reading. As it turns out, several of their current employees who do not speak English were assisted in navigating the warehouse by the pictures on the posted signs. By doing this, they were meeting the needs of other employees as well.

bq lquo Customized employment benefits everyone by focusing on their unique abilities and assigning tasks to those most qualified to complete them. rq lquo

Thirty years ago, the only jobs available to adults with disabilities might be cleaning washrooms or other unappealing jobs. Look at how far society has come in not only employing, but accepting individuals with disabilities into the workforce. As a whole, we need to move away from using the word “accommodation” and move towards “customized employment.” Customized employment benefits everyone by focusing on their unique abilities and assigning tasks to those most qualified to complete them.

Finally, consumers like to see their own experiences reflected in the businesses they frequent. Who hasn’t been touched by a person with a disability? When customers see people with disabilities working, they are more likely to shop at that establishment, and your new employee attracts his family, friends, and acquaintances to your business. For a small investment, you could be attracting an entirely new customer base.

For more information contact: Ilene Rosenberg, Director of Community Employment Services, Clearbrook at irosenberg@clearbrook.org.