From the CEO: Disability Employment Awareness Month

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The first Friday of each month the economic geek in me watches for the phone alert on new job growth. I didnt do well in high school economics and thankfully I didnt have to take it in college. However, I recall enough to know that job growth, or lack thereof, can trigger responses from Wall Street and is sure to generate a tweet or two.

Recent numbers continue to show that the number of people filing for unemployment benefits is at the lowest level since I graduated from college (four decades!) More jobs are being added. Wages, even in Indiana, are slowly creeping up. We watch, waiting for comments about what is “full employment” and have people quit looking? Seasonal fluctuations are evident. What can I make of all of the numbers?

The first Friday in October brought additional numbers in light that this is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. The labor force participation rate for people with disabilities is up one percentage point over the same month last year. This is the percentage of population working or actively looking for work. Good news, right? The thing is that participation rate is 34.1% compared to 76.6% for people without a disability. It may not be great, but it is moving in the right direction and it has been a positive trend since early 2016.

I cant speak for the entire country, but I can speculate on a few factors that might be influencing that trend in Northeast Indiana:

  • Focus on transition. Select high schools have clear programming for all students directing options, including employment, for post-graduation.
  • Increased universal design in office buildings and other facilities. Employers who evaluate work space by universal design criteria rather than just ADA are sending messages to people of all abilities that they are welcome to join their workforce.
  • Enhanced transportation efforts. Transportation to the worksite continues to be a major barrier for those with varying abilities. Grants from AWS Foundation have helped increase ridership with both Fort Wayne Citilink and Community Transportation Network (CTN).
  • Repeated messaging. When any individual repeatedly hears the question about what do they want to do when they grow up they build a future plan based on an assumption of work. More and more, those with disabilities have that question as part of a school IEP and from supportive communities.
  • Experience. As we build a more inclusive community in the arts, recreation and other aspects of Northeast Indiana, we send the message that the entire community, including employers, is welcoming of people of all abilities.

All of these elements are helping NEI provide employment options for people of varying abilities. But lets end with one specific story because it really is about each person as a unique individual.

I have been told the story of a young woman with a disability who did not do well with the typical interview format. She wanted to work and had ability! A keen interviewer realized that rather than conduct a face to face inquisition, a casual conversation while walking through the place of employment might be a better gauge of her ability. During this walk, they talked about her personal likes and why she wanted to work there. The job she wanted wasnt available, but he realized they had a qualified candidate for another position. She got the job and gave it her all, and according to my source, “the department managers absolutely love herand she recently celebrated her first anniversary with that store.”

Yes, the national economic indicators say that as a country we are doing better with employment, but what are you doing to help? Do you consider the individual and not the job? Do you look at abilities rather than disabilities? Do you send the message that you are welcoming and inclusive?

Help celebrate with us National Disability Employment Awareness Month and help make the November and December numbers a little bit better.