Monday, December 1, 2014

Last year I reviewed five parts of "Unfit for Work: The Startling Rise of Disability
in America." My comment to NPR - "I did not hear my son's story - that as a young man with intellectual disabilities (and we do not define him as "a disabled man," he is a man who happens to have disabilities) and with autism, employers do not want to hire him for wages. He does volunteer work, but he cannot find paid work, in part because of employer attitudes, customer attitudes, lack of job coaches and other employment supports. He is hardly living the high life on SSI or developmental disability funding. This series is unbalanced and biased. Where are the interviews with people like my son or with adult service providers such as The Arc? Where are the employers? Where are the parents and family members who spend up to 21 years fighting the school system for an education that will prepare their child for independent, community-based adult life?"
The problems finding employment for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have not diminished. As of 2012, one in three living in the community lived in poverty, fewer than one in four was employed and less than 12% were employed full time, year round. My son is still volunteering in order to develop work skills, especially the "soft" skills of communicating with other employees and behaving appropriately in a business setting, and to make connections in our new community that might lead to paid employment. That employment dream seems more distant as the months go by, and his confidence is sapped. Even finding organizations that will accept him as a volunteer is difficult. One charitable organization that turned him down was later advertising for volunteers in local free papers. Having had a year of work-study experience in stocking shelves in a grocery store should have qualified him to stock the charity's food pantry shelves. The saying that "where one door closes, another door opens" does not seem to apply to employment for individuals with disabilities. 

We need to commit to employing people with disabilities who are willing and able to work. It may take some ingenuity, such as in job carving. In job carving,  people with disabilities are hired for certain tasks they can perform and freeing current employees to concentrate on their primary work. For example, a company might hire people with disabilities to make copies and collate mailings, so that current employees can focus on developing the content of the mailings. Employing people with disabilities can benefit employers, employees and the economy as people with disabilities contribute meaningfully within their community.

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