Most of us with career ambitions take it for granted that once we finish with our schooling we will move on to the next logical step: getting a job. The position we are offered and accept is usually just the beginning of what will become a true career, enhanced with life-long training and a series of promotions.
But if you are a person with a disability, the career track described above seems almost unimaginable. Often just getting a part-time job can be a full-time effort, filled with false starts and disappointments.
But that is changing, slowly, and we at Penn-Mar Human Services are committed to finding ways to makes sure people with disabilities who want to work, can work. Our job is to provide the services and supports to enable them to do so successfully.
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). Its theme, “The Right Talent, Right Now,” emphasizes the essential role that people with disabilities play in America’s economic success, especially in an era when historically low unemployment and global competition are creating a high demand for skilled talent.
The turning point for Penn-Mar came when we shifted our mind set from “it would be nice to have jobs for the people support” to “we need to be more of a catalyst to help them get jobs.”
So instead of depending only on our job developers to come up with opportunities, we took the position that it is everyone’s job here to help people get work.
All of us are encouraged to tap our network of relationships to seek out employment opportunities and business leaders who are open to filling a job niche with a person with a disability.
Naturally, the process starts with the desire from the person we support to want to be in the employment arena. And even then, we work very hard through our Exploration & Discovery Program to help them understand what it is they like to do. Often this exercise reveals things they never even thought could lead to employment.
We had to raise our expectations as an organization for those we support, which encouraged them to raise theirs as to what they could or could not do. This forced us collectively to consider, if we don’t believe it is possible, who will?
A good friend of mine once joked, “Everyone deserves the opportunity to go to work and complain about their job.” But when you go to your job and see a person with a significant challenge in life who always arrives on time and is genuinely happy for the opportunity to be there, more often than not the workplace culture is significantly improved.
Today there are a diversity of job opportunities for people with disabilities – from food service, to manufacturing and retail, even technology and in some cases self-employment. The people we support are often proficient at very specific tasks and are ready to go to work today for an employer who needs that skill. And while having the right skills is important, making the right job placement is essential.
As more people with intellectual disabilities are becoming gainfully employed, employers are taking notice. In fact, our best advocates in the business community are employers who have the people we support working for them.
If you’re in the market for “The Right Talent, Right Now,” consider hiring a person with a disability who is ready to meet your job requirements, is excited about going to work every day, and whose presence in the workplace has the power to inspire your employees and change your culture for the better.