The Best Prize

Remember when you landed your first job?

If you were a high school student, you probably didn’t have much work experience, if any, but that didn’t matter. You were willing to work, the business was willing to hire you because there were job openings and you would get on-the-job training.  Applying for the job was easy. Fill out the application in person, maybe an interview was required and shortly the phone call or letter came. Now think about what influenced your decision to accept the job. Immediate need for money, your parents told you to get a job, or you had a career goal and pursued a specific job.

Self-employment might have been an option such as mowing yards, babysitting, cleaning houses or setting up a lemonade stand. Family and friends likely were encouraging supporters both financially (by hiring you) and emotionally by telling you that “whatever you set your mind to you could do it.”

If you were a high school student with a disability (intellectual or physical), would you have had the same opportunities and support? You were willing to work, jobs were plentiful and on-the-job training was available. Then barriers appear – completing the application was challenging, as was the interview. Add to that skepticism from others on your ability to do the job or becoming an entrepreneur.

Theodore Roosevelt said, “Far and away the best prize life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” Since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 prohibiting discrimination against individuals with disabilities, employment rates have not risen significantly in spite of appropriate accommodations in the workplace, accessibility to buildings, schools and public transportation. In the 90’s the employment rate of individuals with disabilities was 50.2% compared to 84.4% without disabilities. However, the recession took its toll on any progress as the first to lose jobs were those with disabilities.

Given our country’s current robust economy the employment outlook is, not surprisingly, encouraging. The Bureau of Labor Statistics Job Report for July 2017 indicated 33.1% of people with disabilities were working yet the unemployment rate tells a different story – the number of individuals with a disability looking for work is twice that of individuals without a disability.

As Indiana approaches a near historically low 3% unemployment rate, “we are hiring” signs are everywhere. But who are we hiring?

A key initiative of AWS Foundation is advancing Education and Employment for individuals of all ages and abilities. We believe linking education and employment helps ensure that students with disabilities acquire skills to be successful in the workplace – counting money, placing an order, telling time, learning a work process, taking public transportation, engaging in informal conversation or problem-solving, describing a situation or issue. In-school experiences coupled with community experiences reinforce learning and help students identify potential careers. Such job-readiness activities close the experience gap for jobs posted “no experience necessary.” Grants supporting several organizations in northeast Indiana are becoming models for how to best teach these skills, track progress and ultimately place graduates in jobs.

So, what can you do to give a person with a disability the best prize life has to offer? How about that first job…

Want to explore hiring individuals with a disability?  Several new efforts are underway to connect employers with organizations providing training and placement. Let us know how we can help.