Jasmine has a lot on her calendar. She’s worked at AAh’s, a popular gift shop, in the shipping department since 2017. Her job is one that WorkFirst – an Easterseals program providing customized employment services for people with disabilities – helped her to identify and tailor to take advantage of her strengths and love for art. Jasmine fulfills online orders for customers from across the country and around the globe for cards, gifts and other pop culture items. In her spare time, she is a talented oil painter.

“We’re happy to have her on our staff,” said Nitu Chopra, the store manager and Jasmine’s supervisor. “She’s an asset, a hard worker who cares about her job.”

Like Jasmine the majority of people with disabilities, developmental or physical, want to work. Unlike her, most are rarely given the opportunity. Misguided societal barriers, outdated “norms” and erroneous beliefs about the types of work an individual with a disability can perform, keep eager, qualified people out of the workforce.

Like anyone, a person with a disability has unique talents, abilities and perspectives that can contribute significantly to an employer’s bottom line. Inclusion is not only good for the individual, but for the business and society as a whole. Employment equals self-sufficiency, including the ability to pay rent or buy a home, patronize stores, pay taxes and contribute economically to our communities and nation.

Celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2019, Easterseals is one of the largest nonprofit providers of disability services in the country with a mission to Change the Way the World Defines and Views Disability.

Customized employment is nothing new. Parents work alternative or shared shifts; highly specialized doctors consult via Skype; and executives telecommute. Easterseals Southern California WorkFirst program is a customized employment service that assists individuals with disabilities on a one-on-one basis to find a job or start a small business, based on talents, interests and abilities.

WorkFirst focuses on meaningful employment. A person with a disability is working in a job of their choice, in an inclusive setting alongside co-workers who do not have a disability and receives salary/benefits comparable to non-disabled workers doing the same job.

Easterseals also takes the time to learn about our business partners’ needs to successfully match a qualified individual to a specific job opportunity.

WorkFirst has supported thousands of people to successfully find meaningful employment in a variety of fields; from customer service to social media specialist, florist, wrangler, dance teacher, baker, sous chef, sports writer, theme park worker, usher and more.

Industry reports consistently rate workers with disabilities above average based on performance, safety, attendance and turnover (8% vs. 45% in the general population per the Association of People Supporting Employment First). Customers with disabilities and their families, friends and associates represent a $3 trillion market segment. Among all customers, 87% say they prefer to patronize businesses that hire employees with disabilities. And nearly two-thirds of consumers are “belief-driven buyers,” who choose, switch, avoid or boycott a brand based on its stand on societal issues (2018 Edelman Earned Brand Report). Economic benefits to the employer are clear.

Yet, despite the factual evidence, disability remains a prevalent barrier to employment for the estimated 61 million people (one in three households) with a disability in the U.S. According to a Feb. 28 U.S. Department of Labor report, just 19.1% of people with disabilities are employed, versus 65.9% of people without disabilities.

So why are so many people with disabilities unemployed?

One myth is the anticipated high cost of accommodations that meet the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). Most accommodations (if needed) cost less than $500 and, based on a national survey from the Cornell University Employment and Disability Institute in 2012, employers on average see a $28-plus return on investment for each dollar spent.

Another piece of the equation is literally getting people to see past the disability. Once employers learn what an individual has to offer, the disability becomes a secondary trait, like height or eye color.

Building an inclusive society in which everyone is valued, encouraged and supported in pursuit of their goals and dreams is not just the right thing to do … it’s just good business sense.

Learn how you can help build a more inclusive and equitable future for all people at easterseals.com/southerncal.

Sherry Beamer is Director, Employment Services, WorkFirst at Easterseals Southern California.

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