New Campaigns Are Developing Across the Country to Create an Inclusive and Diverse Workforce

Lori Sousa, 48, and Peter, Maxmean, 35, at their wedding reception in East Providence, R.I., in August. Ãngel Franco/The New York Times

Lori Sousa, 48, and Peter, Maxmean, 35, at their wedding reception in East Providence, R.I., in August. Ãngel Franco/The New York Times

The article A Couple Gaining Independence and Finding a Bond on the front page news of the Sunday NY Times caught my attention. It’s a love story about two people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) who met at a sheltered workshop in Rhode Island, found their “soul mate,” and are now newlyweds. Their story came to light when this workshop came under federal investigation and was found to have willful violations of the sub-minimum wage law including the failure to record and pay employees for all of the hours that they worked. The state of Rhode Island agreed to a landmark consent decree which requires integrated opportunities for the 2,000 persons working in sheltered workshops across the state.

This decree put the other 49 states on notice that change is coming and employment in the community and not sheltered workshops should be the first consideration for persons with IDD. President Obama signed into law this past August the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which significantly limits placements at sheltered workshops and other work environments where people with disabilities earn less than minimum wage. Under the new law, individuals with disabilities age 24 and younger will no longer be allowed to work for less than the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour unless they first receive pre-employment transition services at school and try vocational rehabilitation services. Many senators and representatives have issued statements supporting this regulation,

An employee with BNI's TWS.

An employee with BNI’s TWS.

noting that young people with IDD deserve to be treated with dignity and afforded all of life’s opportunities.

As the nation, we are seeing more movements to promote inclusivity and diversity in the workforce. Best Buddies International just launched their campaign I’m In To Hire, which promotes the business benefits of hiring individuals with IDD and motivate employers to create a more inclusive workplace.

A groundbreaking report “Employing People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities,” by the 2014 Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) reveals the business benefits of hiring this skilled, untapped group of employable candidates – like the fact that more than 3/4 of business who hired individuals with IDD rated them as “good” to “very good” on most performance factors, such as dependability and work quality.

TWS Employees from BNI

TWS Employees from BNI

The Barber National Institute consistently works with the community and business leaders in PA to promote employment for individuals with IDD. Locally most students graduating from high school move into our employment programs, Transitional Work Services (TWS) or Supported Employment (SE). TWS offers training and work opportunities to individuals who wish to transition from school or unemployment into an integrated, competitive work force. A variety of work experiences and specialized training in landscaping, food service, janitorial work, and machine operation are provided. These and other opportunities give participants the experience needed to gain employment.  The goal of SE is to prepare individuals for future employment success with a range of services to help ensure a good match for both the adult seeking employment and the prospective employer. The goal for each supported employee is that he or she will successfully and independently maintain employment in the community.

It is exciting to see the nation embrace inclusion of IDD in the workplace. What can you do to see this dream come true? I would love to hear your thoughts.

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