The majority of people with disabilities want to work but are rarely given the opportunity to do so. Misguided notions about the types of work an individual with a disability can perform, along with societal barriers, keep people out of the workforce.
According to the 2017 Annual Disability Statistics Compendium from the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire, only 35.9 percent of U.S. civilians with disabilities ages 18-64 living in the community had a job, compared to 76.9 percent for people without disabilities. Local statistics are no better. In Los Angeles County there is only a 32.6 percent employment rate for this same population compared to a 70.9 percent employment rate for people without a disability, according to 2015 data.
These statistics tell a story of untapped potential.
Like any individual, a person with a disability has unique talents and abilities that can contribute to significantly to an employer’s bottom line. Inclusion of people with disabilities in the workforce is not only good for business but our society as a whole. When people are employed they gain self-sufficiency, including the ability to pay rent or buy a home, patronize stores, pay taxes and contribute economically to our communities and nation.
A major myth around employing a person with a disability is the cost of potentially needing to provide accommodations that meet the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). Facts indicate otherwise. Employers see over a $28 Return on Investment (ROI) average for every dollar invested in accommodations, based on a national 2012 survey from the Cornell University Employment and Disability Institute. (Most accommodations cost employers less than $500.) It is also worth noting that the turnover rate for employees with disabilities is 8 percent compared to 45 percent for other workers, based on information shared by the Association of People Supporting Employment First (APSE). Additionally, customers with disabilities and their families, friends and associates represent a $3 trillion market segment. Plus, 87 percent of customers say they would prefer to patronize businesses that hire employees with disabilities.
Easterseals, which will be celebrating its 100th Anniversary in 2019, is one of the largest nonprofit providers of disability services in the country. Our legacy, and our role today, is to change the way the world defines and views disability by making profound, positive differences in people’s lives every day. Easterseals Southern California is committed to future where people with disabilities are employed in jobs that allow them to earn a living and make the best use of their talents. ESSC’s WorkFirst is a customized employment service that assists individuals on a one-on-one basis to find a job, or start a small business, based on a person’s talents, interests and abilities. We focus on meaningful employment which means a person with a disability is working at a job of their choice, in an inclusive setting alongside co-workers who do not have a disability, and they receive pay and benefits comparable to non-disabled workers doing the same job.
WorkFirst employment specialists take the time to learn about each individual using our service. We review and assess work history, transferable skills, transportation and technology needs. Our service helps people establish goals and objectives for employment and work with them on informational interviews, building social capital, and benefits planning. WorkFirst focuses on learning who an individual is so that we can better support them to identify jobs and careers tied to their employment goals and in roles in which they will be successful. Over the years we have individually supported thousands of people to find meaningful employment in a variety of fields and business settings ranging from large corporations to small independent companies.
Assisting people with disabilities to find work is only half the equation, educating and supporting employers is the other half. Employer workforce development is essential piece in gaining more work opportunities. Once employers learn what an individual has to offer, the disability becomes a secondary trait, like having blue or brown eyes. We also take the time to learn about business needs and can work to match a qualified individual to a specific job opportunity.
We can, and should, work to build a society in which everyone is included and valued for who they are, free to strive for what they want, educated to pursue the career they want and encouraged to follow their dreams.
Debbie Ball is Vice President, Employment Services with Easterseals Southern California. Learn how you can help build a more inclusive and equitable future for all people at easterseals.com/southerncal.