According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 79 percent of people with disabilities are “not in the labor force.” This means that they are neither unemployed or employed. Essentially these individuals are either not considering working, or are not considered eligible for employment. The latest data from the US Census Bureau states that 13 percent of our population has a disability. So it’s safe to say that the majority of these individuals are not working.
There are a vast amount of challenges that people with disabilities face. First, you have to remember that there are a lot of disabilities; people cannot possibly know and or understand all of them. I think that most of the time when people don’t know or understand something, they are either afraid of it and avoid it, or ignore it entirely.
Furthermore, I believe that when people hear the word “disability,” they immediately start thinking about what a person can’t do- not what they can do.
This creates a rift between able-bodied individuals, and those who are differently-abled. There has been much talk about changing the terminology to try to combat the stigma and negative connotation of the word. With no official change, people often take it upon themselves to change the word in their everyday life. I often use the words “special-needs individuals,” while some others choose to use “exceptional people/person” or as I used above, “differently abled.”
People with special needs are not liabilities. I argue that each of them are exceptional in their own way. I have found through my six years working with special needs individuals, that they are among the most empathetic people that I have ever met. They are often selfless, caring, humble and fun to be around.
They are not people that need to be pitied or constantly catered to, nor are they people that need to be hidden from the world. In fact, from all of my experiences with people with disabilities ranging from intellectual to physical, one theme always stands out: independence.
Some people with disabilities want to be able to take care of themselves. This means that they want to be able to do things with autonomy whenever they can. This includes employment. I’m sure that many of us remember getting our first job, our first check, and being able to say we make our own money. It’s an empowering experience to be able to pay your own bills.
A friend of mine has Spastic Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy. He has many tough things that he has to deal with that might make working difficult. Conventional employment such as cashiering, waiting tables, office work, would be difficult- but something he can do is greet people at the door. Some people might not think that that would be a fun or fulfilling job. But for him, it is perfect, and he LOVES it.
He likes asking people about their day, giving them compliments and making them smile. It’s hard to not to start beaming when he greets you. It would be wonderful if he could get a paid position where he could make some money and feel the benefit of acknowledgement from a society that largely ignores him.
Hiring people with disabilities is good for business. John O’Connor, a career coach based in North Carolina, wrote in a recent Forbes article that hiring people who are differently-abled creates a supportive and compassionate work environment, allows for more diverse perspectives and have been proven time and time again to be dependable and hardworking employees in a wide range of roles. Not only that, but there are tax breaks for hiring them.
Jamilah Corbitt, founder of the community building strategy company, “i am a brand,” argues that people with special needs are extraordinary problem-solvers because of the challenges they face on a day-to-day basis. Additionally, when the focus is shifted from the lack of ability, to what they can do, they often exhibit highly developed skills in other areas that more than compensate for anything that they lack.
Some might argue that creating that accommodations would cost a lot of money. They might say that we could and should hire people with special needs, but we don’t have the budget to support it. I say that all it really takes is a change in perspective and a change in priorities, not a big budget.
It’s plain to see that the benefits far outweigh the negatives. Businesses like A Special Blend in Greensboro, are catching on to this. I believe before long, we will see a shift in employment practices that are more inclusive of such exceptional people.