Anyone who has looked for a job knows that the task is often fraught with anxiety … and it can be even more challenging for people with disabilities. 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 2019 U.S. Department of Labor report, just 19.1% of people with disabilities are employed, versus 65.9% of people without disabilities.

Yet the fact is that 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 … so what’s the problem?

“It’s about managing unconscious bias and understanding what inclusion is,” said Catherine Crow, Chief People Officer, overseeing human resources for Easterseals Southern California (ESSC), one of the largest nonprofit providers of disability services in the state.

“People may not even be aware of what their biases are,” continued Crow. “Once employers look beyond the disability, or any other singularly defining characteristic, they learn what an individual has to offer. It’s about being open to people from all perspectives, demographics, genders, ethnicities, orientations, experience levels, educational backgrounds, cultures, neighborhoods. It’s about looking at a person in their entirety and creating a new lens for perceiving, joining with and inviting into our communities.”

“Instead of a bunch of people who all act and look the same, you have differential skillsets, outlooks, approaches and ways of processing that make a team stronger, bringing varied insights to cultures, systems, processes, even policies, to make sure everyone has an opportunity to participate and succeed. It makes the organization that much more resilient and successful.”

With a mission to “Change the way the world defines and views disability by making profound, positive differences in people’s lives every day,” ESSC’s WorkFirst service focuses on meaningful employment. Translation? 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 who receives salary/benefits comparable to non-disabled workers doing the same job.

WorkFirst 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. But customized employment is nothing new. Parents work alternative or shared shifts; highly specialized doctors consult via the Internet; and executives telecommute.

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

One persistent myth that creates a barrier is the anticipated high cost of accommodations that meet the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). Yet 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.

ESSC’s WorkFirst service has supported thousands of people to successfully find meaningful employment in a variety of fields: From customer service to social media specialist, florist, dog groomer, dance teacher, baker, sous chef, sportswriter, theme park worker, usher and more.

Ultimately, inclusion is not only good for the individual and the business, but for 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.

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 clearly just makes good business sense.

Information for this article was provided by Easterseals Southern California (ESSC), one of the largest nonprofit providers of disability services in the state. Learn how you can help build a future where everyone is 100% Included and 100% empowered at

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