Challenges and Opportunities: Reflecting on Employment for People with Disabilities in Our Region and Beyond

As we wind down National Disability Employment Awareness month, I read some disturbing statistics that tell us we still have a long way to go.

As of September 2021:

Labor Force Participation Rate

  • People with disabilities: 22.36%
  • People without disabilities: 67.0%

Unemployment Rate

  • People with disabilities: 9.0%
  • People without disabilities: 4.4%

The numbers are disheartening! So, I thought that it would be helpful to learn what is available in our region.

The Barber National Institute is committed to educating the business community about people with autism and developmental disabilities and their capabilities. Employers are often unaware of the common strengths shared by many people with autism and developmental disabilities, including intense attention to detail, commitment to quality and consistency, creative and “out of the box” thinking, excelling on repetitive tasks, lower turnover rates, honesty, and loyalty.

As a community, I hope we embrace the belief that people with autism and developmental disabilities bring added value to our jobs. They create diversity in the workplace, which increases workplace morale. Many national companies, including Amazon, Apple, and Home Depot, are recognizing the important roles played by persons with disabilities at their companies. There are several local companies that have offered employment to persons with disabilities. Some of these companies include Industrial Sales and Manufacturing Inc., Bayfront Inn and Suites Hotel, AHN Saint Vincent Hospital, Lincoln Recycling, JTM Foods, Bayfront Convention Center, Bonded Services, Grimm Industries, Gerlachs, Fluid Engineering, and Bello’s.

The Barber National Institute recently presented its 2021 Employer of the Year award to Onex, a local employee-owned manufacturer.

Representatives from Onex receiving the 2021 Employer of the Year award from the Barber National Institute.

“Onex is a great example of how a business can find solutions that support competitive employment for people with disabilities and benefit the employer,” said Carrie Kontis, chief officer for Intellectual Disabilities Services at the Barber National Institute.

“Onex has demonstrated innovative leadership and supportive approaches for hiring and training employees with an intellectual disability or autism so they can be successful, contribute to company goals, and achieve greater independence and inclusion in our communities,” Kontis added.

Persons with autism and developmental disabilities are a hidden talent pool for businesses. Just last year, 40 adults with autism and developmental disabilities acquired jobs with forward-thinking Erie employers. What would be a realistic goal for us this year?  I will leave that up to you.

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