Employment + Disabilities, a Great Combination!
Did you know that October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month? The pandemic has been difficult for everyone in the workforce and those with disabilities are no exception. According to a report from the United States Department of Labor, the percentage of employed people with disabilities went from 19.3% in 2019 to 17.9% in 2020 due to the pandemic (United States Department of Labor, 2021)*. I can’t begin to imagine what it has been like for individuals with disabilities to be in the job market during this past year with everything that circled around us with COVID-19.I hope the following information is helpful in explaining why it is a benefit to employers to hire those with disabilities and how parents and individuals can prepare for the workplace.
Why should employers hire individuals with disabilities? The points below obviously don’t apply to everyone with a disability. It is based on my personal and professional experiences with people with disabilities.
- People with disabilities are out of the box problem solvers.
Most people with disabilities that I have encountered have had to adapt to navigating the world and learning new things in different ways than most people. This makes them incredibly creative. They will often offer a solution to a problem that others may not think of. They will not be dissuaded by obstacles in their way.
- People with disabilities are empathetic.
Many of the young people that I have worked with in my career are extremely attuned to the emotional needs of others. They are kind and compassionate because they have faced experiences where others were not caring to them. They are more understanding towards people who may seem different than others.
- Every human being has unique strengths to offer your business or entity.
This one is a universal truth. Everyone has skills, talents, and personality traits that are well suited to particular tasks. People with disabilities are no exception.
Many people diagnosed with Autism have an exceptional ability to focus and to remain attentive to the tasks they are working on. Many are also comfortable with repetition. Most make excellent employees when tasks match their strengths.
How can families prepare their young people for entering the workforce?
- Give them opportunities to speak for themselves and advocate for their own needs. Help students build confidence in their abilities, and work past their disabilities.
- Encourage students to talk to their instructors if they are struggling in school. Have them practice what they need to say ahead of time so they can effectively communicate their needs. This will prepare them for when they have to advocate for their needs to a supervisor or college professor.
- Hold them accountable!
Individuals with disabilities may have different ways of doing things and they may need support in specific areas, however they should be held to the same standard as others in terms of how they conduct themselves in the world. It is important that they are expected to treat people with respect, follow through with what they say they will do, and be dependable with their responsibilities. This will prepare them to do the same in the working world. When children are young, it is advisable to hold them to a structured routine that will create consistency and security.
What should young people with disabilities keep in mind when searching for jobs?
- Advocate for yourself and your needs.
In the past your teachers and parents/guardians may have advocated for your needs in order for you to succeed in school. You become completely responsible for that when you enter the workforce or college. If you need certain accommodations like permission to record meetings or more detailed instructions to be successful at work, don’t be afraid to speak to your boss about this. Advocating for your needs allows you to be in control of your life rather than waiting for others to provide them for you. Know what accommodations and supports are available to you where you live or work. For example, ACCESS-VR provides job coaching and other supports in New York State. For more about that visit http://www.acces.nysed.gov/vr.
- Focus on a career that uses your strengths.
The world is filled with messages that say, “You can do anything you set your mind to.” I personally do not subscribe to this idea. Can you work hard to overcome any obstacle? You absolutely can! As I mentioned before, everyone has strengths and things that they struggle with. If you pursue a career that is based on your strengths, you will be more likely to succeed.
- Talk to people in the field that you are interested in.
Young people can get career advice from many different people. However, sometimes the best people to speak to about our goals are people who are already working in the desired career. Ask them about their story and how they got into the field. What exactly do they do in their job on most days? What do they wish they knew before they started their career?
- Don’t be discouraged if a job or college opportunity doesn’t work out.
It is okay to have experiences in college and the workforce that you don’t end up sticking with. This is how you will learn and grow. It will also give you a better idea of what you may or may not want to do for your future career. Any job experience (whether it is in the field that you’re interested in or not) will teach you what it is like to be a professional with a good work ethic.
- Your career is not your identity.
Your career can be a big part of your life. However, it doesn’t have to be your entire life. Make sure you are in an environment in which you are being paid a fair wage and you are given enough time to take care of yourself if possible. It will be more fulfilling and meaningful to you if you are in an environment where you can thrive. Everyone needs to find a good life/work balance to be happy and healthy.*2020 – Bureau of Labor Statistics. PERSONS WITH A DISABILITY: LABOR FORCE CHARACTERISTICS — 2020. (n.d.). Retrieved October 15, 2021, from https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/disabl.pdf