Currently 7 out of every 10 adults who are developmentally disabled are unemployed.
This is the grim reality faced by a population who has so much to offer to employers.
When an adult with an intellectual challenge can work – but does not have the opportunity to do so – it is damaging to our society in many ways. Obviously the individual suffers enormously. They are trapped at home without the chance to be out in the community. In an economic sense, they are not allowed to be productive. The have feelings of isolation, boredom and they can suffer from extreme loneliness. Because they are not being allowed to demonstrate their talents, their commitment and their potential, they can suffer a loss of self-esteem. They are unable to make their own money so that they can purchase the things they need and want. They are not learning new skills or enhancing existing abilities. They are denied the feeling of pride they would rightfully feel when they received a paycheck.
But employers also lose out when they do not give the intellectually challenged the chance to be included in the work force. These individuals have often waited for a considerable length of time for a job to open up and when that opportunity finally presents itself they commit themselves fully to the company who was willing to offer them employment. Because of their appreciation they are dedicated and loyal. They are willing to learn and to be a team player. They are often long-term employees who are not interested in taking whatever else comes along. Their joy on the job can be infectious and spread to other employees. Customers begin to enjoy their interaction with individuals who they once thought of as being quite different, but who they quickly realize are not so different at all. In fact, in most cases, the business that employs the disabled individual benefits at least as much as the person who is hired – if not more.
For many people having the opportunity to work with a person who is developmentally disabled is their first exposure to the individuals who make up 3% of the population. They are often amazed by what these new employees can accomplish. This not only helps the company but it also helps to break old stereotypes about the employability of the disabled. Coworkers who are often unsure about how to interact with someone who has special needs quickly learn to accept that person as an equal member of the team and before long friendships are formed and a mutual respect develops that transcends just the work setting. People learn to value the humanity of the person working along side them and they no longer focus on what that individual can or cannot do.
When a man or woman with an intellectual disability is given the opportunity to be employed, their entire world changes. Suddenly they are included in the community. They feel like they are a part of things. They have a sense of belonging. As they get the chance to interact with coworkers and customers they develop new personal skills. They learn how to interact appropriately in a social setting, and they make new friends. They develop vocational skills as they learn about the world around them and about themselves. Their confidence and self-esteem flourishes. Their general health often improves because they are now physically active and they are psychologically engaged in their day-to-day life.
Their families also benefit. Care givers are given respite from the 24/7 responsibility of caring for their loved ones. They have the opportunity to have a life of their own and to have some time for themselves. And of course the individual’s family feels immense pride in their child for having the courage to step into an area of life that they have never experienced before. They are thrilled that their child is taking on responsibility and tackling new challenges. They are supportive and encouraging as their child makes the transition to the workforce. Along with receiving an education, becoming employed is one of the true milestones that we all share. When an individual with significant challenges is able to hold a job it is an accomplishment that their entire family shares in.
But perhaps it is society itself which benefits the most when those with intellectual challenges are allowed to work with the public in an everyday setting. When the average citizen has the opportunity to interact with those who for so long were kept out of the public eye it is a wonderful chance to break down barriers and destroy stereotypes. It allows real dialogue and expressions of acceptance between equal human beings. It allows everyone to feel comfortable with each other and to realize that we are all in this life together and that we all have the same rights and deserve the same dignity and respect. We tend to fear what we don’t understand, and that makes the opportunity to be around those who were once thought of as being unemployable an invaluable learning experience. Once it is understood by everyone that those with a developmental disability have so much to offer as employees it will hasten their acceptance into the workforce, thereby improving the lives of everyone involved.
When a company is willing to give our friends and loved ones the opportunity to be employed we can show our appreciation by giving them our business. We can help spread the word about companies who are intelligent enough and, more importantly, compassionate enough to see the value of every human being. We can be loyal customers to the corporations who demonstrate the same ideals of inclusion that we embrace. There are good people out there who are running companies who care about more than just the bottom line. When we discover those businesses – particularly the ones who treat the intellectually challenged in a fair and respectful way – we owe it to them to publicize their enlightened business philosophy.
When a company has the moral fortitude and the financial good sense to make the decision to step out of the shadows of the past and into the light of the future by hiring men and women with intellectual disabilities they are creating a life changing situation where everyone wins.