Reimagining Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities in Our Region and Beyond

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

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 61 million adults in the U.S. live with a disability. That’s 26 percent of the population.

Disability and labor statistics figures suggest that while the unemployment rate among persons without a disability is 3.2 percent, the unemployment rate among persons with a disability is 8.3 percent.

The numbers are certainly 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 Country Fair, AHN Saint Vincent Hospital, Top’s Friendly Markets, Onex, Port Erie Plastics, Price Rite, JTM Foods, Parker Hannifin Corporation, Dunkin’ Donuts, Industrial Sales and Manufacturing Inc., Foam Fabricators, Cali’s West Catering & Express Take Out, and Bello’s.

Persons with autism and developmental disabilities are a hidden talent pool for businesses. Since the beginning of this calendar year job coaches helped 37 individuals obtain jobs in the community. More younger individuals are referred to the Supported Employment Program for Community Based Work Assessments (CBWA) and job development services. Almost half of consumers (16) who obtained jobs in this calendar year are 25 and younger.

There were more placements in production types of jobs:  Essentra Components, Industrial Sales & Manufacturing Inc., JTM Foods, Fur Haven in Corry, Parker Hannafin Corporation in Union City are some newer employers that open their doors for our consumers. U Pick 6 Company was always a very supportive employer. They hired 2 more of our individuals for their newer Restaurants on Bayfront – Bay House and Pier 6. More employers are contacting our program when they have employment opportunities. One individual got a job at St. Vincent’s Child Care Center and another at Hagerty Family Events Center.

Reimagining the employment opportunities that exist for people with disabilities starts with all of us in the form of conversations and collaboration. What role will you play?

On a personal note, Ryan is in his 10th year of employment at Bello’s. Every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday morning you will find him stacking boxes, delivering food trays, sweeping floors, and doing any job Mr. Bello asks him to do. Ryan has not taken a day off in 10 years. He even worked through COVID! He has an amazing work ethic! The Erie community is so fortunate that we have employers such as the Bello family who believe that persons with disabilities bring an added value to their work site. It is definitely a WIN/WIN.

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