October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). It seems every month of the year we are invited to become “aware” of one important cause or another. With so many worthy issues around us, here’s why I feel National Disability Employment Awareness Month needs our entire community’s attention.
Throughout history, people with disabilities have experienced segregation and marginalization. Opportunity Partners was started (as Opportunity Workshop) in 1953 in the Twin Cities because our founding families said “no” to the common suggestion of sending their child away to live in an institution. These parents had the wisdom – more than 60 years ago – to know that people with disabilities belong in the community and could indeed work, contribute and be valued. In our earliest days, we helped these young adults with disabilities package products for Twin Cities companies that needed the help and were supportive of our efforts.
Mutual benefits of partnerships
Fast-forward 60 years and Opportunity Partners still focuses on matching workers with disabilities with Twin Cities companies. With placement, training, job coaching and support all handled by our staff, we have witnessed countless successful partnerships that save companies time, money and headaches. What’s more, we see the pride and increased self-esteem the people we support gain from having a job.
Even with great progress made over the years in terms of community inclusion and integration, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is reportedly at least twice the unemployment rate of the general population. Organizations like ours are trying to change that by educating businesses about the value of hiring workers with disabilities.
Furthermore, Minnesota’s creation of an Olmstead Plan promises changes for people with disabilities to experience more integration and inclusion in their communities in areas of employment, as well as housing, transportation, services, education, health care and community engagement, and this is wonderful news.
Successful placements amid labor market shift
Nationwide, we hear of worker shortages in some industries and a labor market shift. Some companies face challenges in hiring and keeping good workers, especially in areas like food service and retail. This is costly, as companies continually must recruit and train workers. Meanwhile, our organization sees firsthand individuals that we’ve placed successfully working in many of these types of jobs and garnering praise from managers, co-workers and customers alike – and that’s priceless.
There’s the Deli Express manager who hired a young man with autism to wrap sandwiches with speed and precision, and the Home Depot supervisor who gets multiple customer compliments every week about their helpful clerk who happens to use a wheelchair and speaks through his iPad.
We salute the Lunds & Byerlys human resources representative who turns to us to fill key positions like baggers and stockers, and the Walgreens store manager who welcomes our students into his stores for a training program that boasts an 85 percent placement rate.
The advantages for businesses
Like many other business leaders, they have seen the advantages of hiring people with disabilities or contracting for work teams that include a labor source of people with disabilities. Here are a few of these benefits:
- People with disabilities are known to have a strong work ethic and desire to succeed. This can increase morale for everyone.
- When a company works with an organization that helps people with disabilities succeed, it increases community involvement and enhances diversity goals.
- It makes good business sense. Businesses can increase their capacity, reduce turnover rate and streamline operations.
How can we get more employers to recognize the largely untapped labor pool of people with disabilities and to reap the rewards of having dedicated, hard working, reliable employees? We truly do need companies from every industry on board before we will see real progress in the current high unemployment rate for people with disabilities.
Opportunity Partners announced a new mission statement this year: “Together we advance the quality of life for people with disabilities.” However, we cannot meet our mission without the support of the business community. Let’s work together and see what we can accomplish.
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Let’s give people who want to work the opportunities they deserve!
Armando Camacho joined nonprofit disability organization Opportunity Partners as president and CEO in January 2014. Established in 1953, Opportunity Partners is a $36 million Twin Cities organization that provides services to 2,000 individuals with disabilities to help them live, learn and work more independently. Camacho's nonprofit board service has included Greater Twin Cities United Way, MAP for Non-Profits, St. Paul Rotary Club, Charities Review Council, and Friends of the St. Paul Public Libraries, among others.
*Please note, this content was originally published in MinnPost on 10/7/15.