Posted on October 20, 2020
It hardly seems possible but that this month we are celebrating the 75th year of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) and recognizing 30 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed.
This year’s NDEAM events and activities are centered on the theme, “Increasing Access and Opportunity,” an outcome we have been relentlessly pursuing here at Penn-Mar through our own organization and our work with national provider associations.
For the past five years I have been co-chairing the Employment First workgroup through PAR (Pennsylvania Advocacy and Resources for Autism and Intellectual Disability) comprised of providers and state agencies who oversee Employment First initiatives in Pennsylvania.
Our committee works to address how people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and autism can gain and hold onto employment in integrated settings at or above the minimum wage. Our group is also involved with promoting PA Employment First legislation and public policy, including encouraging the state and its contractors to achieve 7% employment goals of people with disabilities within its own ranks.
Our goals and initiatives for “increasing access and opportunities” for people with disabilities in Maryland are equal priorities. And now, to add to the challenge, people with disabilities are standing side-by-side with some 25 million unemployed Americans who have been looking for meaningful work since the COVID-19 economic fallout.
The realities facing families, employers, and agencies like ourselves are daunting. Many businesses are suffering severe financial hardships and may not be calling back many of their employees. Worst case, the businesses themselves may not be able to survive.
Add to that virtual learning where home schooling is becoming the norm rather than the exception. What will be the impact on two-parent working households where one parent needs to stay home with the kids, or is unwilling to risk rejoining the workforce?
So we find ourselves in a contrary situation where we have people desperately looking for work juxtaposed with hard-to-fill vacancies caused by people unable to return to their jobs.
As employers take stock of this new normal, we will continue to be on the front lines educating them on the value of hiring people with disabilities. The barriers to hiring are often because an employer has had no prior experience working with people with IDD or knowledge of their varied capabilities.
The key to successful employment for all of us is doing what we love. In the case of a person with disabilities who we support, we make it our priority to understand the individual and match job opportunities with the skills and passions in their wheelhouse. There are any number of job opportunities for them when the search is approached thoughtfully and intentionally.
This workforce is ready, willing, and with dedicated training, able to perform a myriad of job-related tasks that are life-changing for them and for the people they work with. Rarely do people with IDD lose their jobs for not working hard enough. They are so grateful for the opportunity, so eager to show what they can do.
Conversely, we at Penn-Mar and agencies like ours around the country are in the midst of a long-term crisis in recruiting and keeping Direct Support Professionals (DSPs), the people who provide direct support to people with intellectual disabilities. The pandemic has only worsened the situation.
So for those of you out there who may be looking for a job, a career change, or flexible hours to work around your home schooling duties, I urge you to consider a career where you will have the opportunity to transform life into living for people with disabilities.
As a DSP you will join a team of people who are dedicated to helping others. A career where you will have the opportunity to open the eyes of people who traditionally have had few opportunities to live and work outside in the community. A chance to create opportunities that will change their lives, and yours, forever.