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From the Desk of Dan Burke: Achieving Goals & Dreams through Work

Lifeworks and its affiliate organization, The Arc of South Norfolk, have been heartened by recent headlines reporting an influx of individuals with disabilities being hired into the workforce. The tight economy and low unemployment rate have been encouraging employers to expand their job candidate pools for many types of entry-level and essential positions. Across the country, agencies like Lifeworks and Arc chapters are working with companies as they increase productivity and create an inclusive corporate culture by hiring individuals with disabilities.

The average monthly jobless rate for people with disabilities fell 4.6 percentage points from 2014 to close out 2018 at 8 percent, according to the U.S. Labor Department. This encouraging data point, however, only reflects people with disabilities who are in the workforce but temporarily out of work. Everyone in our profession knows that the rate of all people with disabilities who are not working is as high as 40 percent to 50 percent, and in some areas of the state and country, even higher.

While the job market may be primed for opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including autism, the ability to secure meaningful employment and succeed in the workplace depends upon community-based skill building and job training programs, along with effective job placement support services and strong partnerships with employers. These essential areas of support are provided by over 100 agencies throughout our Commonwealth.

We must communicate to employers and the public alike that inclusion can fuel a strong economy that benefits all of us. The employers that The Arc of South Norfolk and Lifeworks have partnered with over the years have realized tremendous benefits from hiring people with disabilities. These individuals are trained and eager to take on full- or part-time positions and fulfill permanent or temporary assignments. Most become enthusiastic, productive, loyal and dependable members of the staff. Many employers save money on recruiting, placement and training by partnering with programs like ours. Several individuals have been employed by their chosen company for over 30 years. That’s a major accomplishment even by today’s workforce statistics.

Thanks to new assistive technologies and universal design, fewer accommodations may be required to open up workplaces to people with disabilities. The people that Lifeworks and our colleagues support earn minimum wage or above through competitive placement or group-supported jobs. We have ten individuals working at a facility operated by SimpliSafe, the rapidly growing home security company based in Boston. SimpliSafe was recently recognized at the Advocates for Autism Massachusetts’ (AFAM) 15th anniversary celebration in Natick for its commitment to support people with autism. Two Lifeworks individuals opted to transition to work full time for SimpliSafe, transitioning from the support of public benefits to full wages and benefits.

The Arc of South Norfolk provides services for 12 towns and our affiliate Lifeworks’ employment services programs serve individuals from two locations, one in Norwood and the other within Boston city limits, at a newly opened building in West Roxbury. The two organizations share the space to accommodate the Connections Day Habilitation program and our employment services programs. And we have room to grow. By housing both programs under one roof, it is more beneficial to the needs of the individuals and families we serve in Greater Boston.

Inside this newly renovated space in West Roxbury, we are now well equipped to provide a variety of supports for our individuals. The building provides ample space for training rooms, a physical therapy suite, nurse’s station, and a computer lab in addition to increased office and meeting space. And by virtue of its location, we are convenient to the many local companies that have chosen to fuel their growth in part by hiring people with disabilities. For these employers, the undiscovered talent has already been found. It is our mission, and the mission of our fellow agencies, to achieve the goals and dreams of many through work opportunities.

A booming economy should benefit all.

This post was adapted from a piece originally published in The Provider, the newspaper of the Providers’ Council, in observance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month in October.