Tag Archives: employment

National ‘Ruderman Best In Business Campaign’ Launched

LogoThe Ruderman Family Foundation, in partnership with the Jewish Week Media Group, is proud to announce an innovative competition highlighting North American for profit businesses who have shown exemplary practices in hiring, training and supporting people with disabilities. Those selected will be recognized with a Ruderman “Best in Business Award” and featured in a supplement in The Jewish Week June 19th edition- both printed and online.

“The surest path to full inclusion in our society comes from meaningful employment” said Jay Ruderman, the foundation’s president. “People with disabilities are the most excluded members of our society because they are unemployed at the rate of 70 percent.” As a result, he said, “we must hold up as shining examples those employers who have demonstrated a commitment to hiring people with disabilities. We are proud to partner with The Jewish Week to recognize these employers as the best in the business.”

The awards will showcase those businesses — whether large corporations or small companies —that have a history of:

  • employing people with disabilities
  • training and supporting employees with disabilities
  • developing innovative approaches to maximizing employee’s abilities

For additional information and to make a nomination, please complete the online form Nominations will be accepted through March 27, 2015.

A panel of experts in the field of inclusion and disability will select the winners. Learn more about the experts here.

Each winner will be featured in the supplement with a profile that includes their business logo, a photo, link to their website and description of their inclusive policies.

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How Camp Experiences and Relationships Helped Me Transition to a Corporate Setting

Omer MatalonBy: Omer Matalon as told to Ari Derman

After celebrating my Bar Mitzvah in June 1998, I joined the first ever session of “Taste of Tikvah” at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, which laid the foundation for six wonderful summers in the Tikvah Program. During this time I made many lifelong friends from the fellow campers, counselors and Israeli Shlichim that I interacted with. In 2004, I was lucky enough to participate in the new Atzmayim Tikvah Vocational Program, which enables former campers to learn independent living skills and get vocational training. In my role, I worked in the camp’s kitchen, where I helped stock and organize the necessary items, clean appliances, serve food to the guest tables, and help the chefs with food preparation.

After two summers of learning the job, Ramah offered me an opportunity to serve independently as a staff specialist in the kitchen. From 2006-2012, I spent my summers working at camp and perfecting my skills. In my 14 years at camp, I was able to demonstrate my work ethic and talents, and develop many important relationships that would help me professionally.

After my last summer in 2012, Arnie Harris, the President of Camp Ramah Wisconsin, personally offered me a position at Harris & Harris, a collection agency in downtown Chicago. Ari Derman, who also grew up at Ramah and coordinated the Tikvah Vocational Program while I was a participant, works as an attorney at Harris & Harris, and convinced me that it would be a great fit. I accepted the position as a facilities clerk and quickly started my job. Ari served as my mentor and helped me adjust to a new corporate environment. My teammates taught me how to complete new and exciting tasks.

Omer Matalon and Ari Derman

Omer Matalon and Ari Derman

After two years at Harris & Harris, I couldn’t be happier. My days are action packed. I distribute supplies and mail to the different company departments, help escort our vendors to their destinations, clean workspaces and equipment, and help relocate and build furniture.

My favorite moment at work happened last May, when my peers voted for me to win the company’s Client Engagement Award. That award made me feel like a valued employee and I was proud to have my accomplishments recognized. I appreciate the opportunities that Camp Ramah in Wisconsin helped facilitate for me. I enjoy working alongside Ramah alumni at my job and seeing many friendly faces at Ramah alumni events. I hope that my experience will help inspire and motivate other Tikvah campers and highlight the importance of relationships for young employees in the business world.

Tikvah is a division of Camp Ramah in Wisconsin developed in 1973 to provide inclusion opportunities for children with learning, social and communication difficulties, including those who are higher functioning on the autism spectrum. The Atzmayim Tikvah Vocational Program is supported by a grant from the Ruderman Family Foundation. Follow them on Twitter, Like them on Facebook or learn more on Ramah Wisconsin’s YouTube channel.

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Sunflower Interview Part Two

Sara Portman Milner, Laurie Wexler

Sara Portman Milner (L), Laurie Wexler (R)

Sunflower Bakery was a recipient of the 2013 Ruderman Prize in Inclusion. Below is part two of an interview conducted with the founders where they discuss the challenges of running such a unique bakery, working with other employers and they share with us a most inspiring story about Cal and Drew. Part one of the interview discusses what makes the bakery unique, the community support and how they view inclusion.

What‘s the most rewarding thing about running the bakery?

Laurie: When people feel a sense of accomplishment: they can make the recipe, the chef says they’re doing a good job, you see them growing and gaining confidence. We then go out and see them in an internship, they’re doing well and the supervisor is happy with their work. Finally, when they get a job, that’s a very rewarding experience.

Sara: Knowing we’ve been able to provide the things they should have gotten all along for success.

How many workers and staff are in the bakery today?

3 full-time pastry chefs (2 are also instructors), 10-11 employees in total.

How many employers work with the bakery and what has been their feedback?

Sara: 25 different ones, 9-10 that are currently involved. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, comments such as “your students are so well prepared. We weren’t expecting that level of ability.” In one case, an employer had one slot open, interviewed two of our students and in the end, took both of them! Other people really liked the fact that our students were already trained.

Laurie: We’ve had some large national chains and small businesses as well. Quite a large range of employers. Each place had different benefits for our workers.

What would you say to other employers who may not want to hire people with disabilities?

Laurie: Try it- you might be surprised. Sometimes they’re really surprised in terms of the benefits- loyalty, showing up every day, really wanting to do the job. They may not be perfect but our students have had great success in our being able to train them very well for what they’ll experience on the job site and employers being pleasantly surprised at what they can do.

Sara: Be open-minded! Know that everyone needs a start-up. They’ll value this job more than someone who had a choice of eight jobs available to them.

What’s the biggest challenge you face today?

Laurie: We’re in a really small warehouse that we’re maxing out of. We want to move to the next phase that will take us in the direction of being able to bring in people with a wider range of disabilities and have them train on a wider variety of skills that are valued in the job market.

Sara: There are more people that want to work in the bakery than there are jobs available. We try and “carve” a job. We try to bring a potential employer to come see the person working and understand what an asset they would be, with the part wherein they excel.

Please share a story that happened at the bakery which made you proud or surprised you.

Sunflower Bakery Pastry Arts Training Program

Pastry Arts Training Program

Sunflower students are given a unique opportunity to be the best they can be, regardless of their former struggles throughout their school years. Two students, Cal and Drew, started their training together. Cal was referred by his Transition Teacher during his last year of high school. He has serious language disabilities, both receptive and expressive. He hoped to get training in baking at Sunflower, so that he could do a variety of cooking jobs and work his way up to being a supervisor. As he moved through his training at Sunflower, he had difficulty with multi-step assignments. By the time we started talking about internships, he had decided he wanted to focus on a more limited list of tasks that he felt he could perfect, adding more that would be similar, rather than trying to cover a broader spectrum. Indeed, by the end of his on-the-job training, he had confidently developed the selected skill set.

At the same time, his fellow student, Drew, had received resource help throughout his school years. From the very beginning of his training at Sunflower, he showed great promise, learning techniques and recipes, demonstrating excellent production skills and a seriousness in his approach to learning. However, he had very little self-confidence, since he was used to struggling with schoolwork and experiencing failure. Each time he mastered a new recipe, he was amazed that he had actually succeeded and in such excellent fashion. He completed the broader curriculum and showed great promise. When it was time to explore internships, he hesitantly said that he would be willing to try working in baking, if we thought he could do it.

As part of our Next Steps Employee Development Program, students make site visits to a variety of businesses that are interested in taking Sunflower interns. At the same time, the chefs and supervisors in the businesses meet a range of our students, who are still working in the on-site portion of our on-the-job training program, in preparation for the transition. Cal and Drew went on a number of site visits, along with other students. One particular site, a more upscale restaurant that is part of a local restaurant group, hosted such a visit. Their bakery has an open seating area so customers can watch pastry preparation as they dine.

Both Cal and Drew found the restaurant appealing as did the other visiting students. Sunflower’s employment specialist, who accompanied the group, explained that the restaurant would take two interns to be chosen by the restaurant. Cal and Drew were delighted to be chosen. Cal had shown potential for doing work that is repetitive and required consistency, both in the bakery and in the kitchen. He exuded confidence that impressed the employers. They wanted him to learn and do finite tasks. Drew was chosen because of his training successes and potential to do a wide repertoire of baking and kitchen tasks.

I visited them “on the job,” and it was wonderful to see each of them working in the bakery and in the kitchen, wearing their chef’s toques, busily working with minimal supervision. They looked impeccably professional and I was bursting with pride. They have both grown and enhanced skills learned at Sunflower and also have gained new kitchen skills. Even more amazing was hearing the effusive praise from their supervisors in the bakery and the kitchen. The management has loved having them as interns and are providing excellent references for future employment. Both Cal and Drew have become more confident, performing as professionals.

Since the accomplishments of our graduates never cease to amaze us, we were thrilled when Cal was offered a job at another restaurant in the same shopping area as the internship. Cal had lunch often at this restaurant and chatted about his internship with the manager. The manager was so impressed with his work ethic and enthusiasm, that he hired Cal as soon as he finished his internship! We have learned that if an individual is well-trained and has an excellent attitude along with a good work ethic, it doesn’t matter if they have a limited skill set. They are seen as desirable employees, valued by managers!

Sara Portman Milner and Laurie Wexler are the co-founders and co-directors of Sunflower Bakery located in Gaithersburg, MD.  They can be reached at sara@sunflowerbakery.org or laurie@sunflowerbakery.org. Visit them on Facebook at Sunflower Bakery. 

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The Trials And Tribulations Of Raising A Taxpayer

Andrea GruberBy: Andrea Gruber

  • 500,000 individuals with autism will enter the job force during the next decade.
  • 65% of adults with disabilities are unemployed.
  • Hiring a person with a disability should not be considered charity. It is a sound business decision that brings well-qualified talent into the workforce.

I think about these statistics each and every day. They haunt me like a bad dream, and float in and out of my consciousness continually. I am driven by pure selfishness to see that these statistics do not define my son. I am the mother of an incredible young man. Marc is disciplined, hardworking, congenial, and driven to succeed. However, he has one obstacle standing in his way to long-term, meaningful employment: Marc has autism. Sadly, this single characteristic will completely overshadow all of his incredible skills and attributes in many areas of his life, especially when it comes to establishing a career.

I have three children in their 20’s and, like most parents, I want my grown children to find work that they are passionate about—jobs that not only provide them income, but also get them out of bed every morning with enthusiasm and commitment. Together with my husband, we are raising taxpayers; these are individuals we hope will work hard in a meaningful job and enjoy a rich and full life. Unfortunately, the world at large does not share our vision. As difficult as it is for a typical young adult to find his or her place in the world, a person with disabilities is that much more challenged.

Our family lives in a suburb of Detroit, Michigan. But, before you roll your eyes and think, “No wonder this young man cannot find a job,” I would like to tell you that Detroit is not what you have been led to believe on the national news. There are many opportunities here. Our area is slowly growing and its residents are committed to seeing Detroit revitalized and reborn. With that said, the economics of our area do increase the difficulty in finding employment for a person with disabilities. This is a national problem.

Marc GruberFew employers seem to realize that individuals with learning differences can bring myriad skills and talents to the workplace. In fact, it has been statistically proven that individuals with disabilities increase the overall quality of the workplace. Walgreen’s, KPMG, Merck, and SunTrust Banks have all experienced this firsthand. Each of these businesses has achieved high levels of success by employing individuals without typical resumes. For example, at one of the warehouses that Walgreen’s operates, 40% of the staff members have disabilities. It is one of their highest-producing facilities in the country. All of the employees work together and bring their skills and talents to the workplace to make this facility an incredible success.

April is Autism Awareness Month. This means 30 days during which parents, educators, organizations, and all those touched by this lifelong disability try to teach others about living a life with autism. I am hoping that within the next 30 days, there will be an employer that will look at my son’s resume and be persuaded to hire him because of his ABILITIES, not the things he cannot do. My son, like so many of his peers, is capable of much more than sweeping a floor, folding laundry, clearing a table, or watering plants. My son is bright, disciplined, hardworking, driven to succeed, and congenial, and one day he WILL be a taxpayer.

Andrea Storch Gruber and her family reside in Southfield, Michigan. She is a member of the statewide group, Parents Raising Taxpayers. Most recently, Andrea helped to organize a Community Conversation to bring light to the issue of employment for individuals with disabilities. Her son, Marc, has participated in Atzmayim, Camp Ramah in Wisconsin’s Tikvah Vocational Program, which receives funding from the Ruderman Family Foundation. His resume and visual portfolio are available upon request!

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An Interview With Michael Stein

I had the pleasure of interviewing Harvard Professor Michael Stein about a wide range of issues affecting people with disabilities. Professor Stein is an internationally recognized expert on disability rights, who participated in the drafting of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and actively consults with international governments on their disability laws and policies.

Below is part one of the interview. Part two will appear on the blog very soon.
– Ephraim Gopin

Michael Stein1) How well is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) being implemented?

The ADA has been a mixed bag. It’s been extraordinarily successful in creating access to public places and public accommodation, but it’s been extraordinarily unsuccessful in affecting employment.

According to many studies, the ADA has had a major effect as far as making the public areas a place where people with and without disabilities can come and go at their leisure and more accessible for people with disabilities. It has improved the quality of people’s lives immeasurably.

As far as employment, we’ve seen a consistent decrease in employment and holding since well before the ADA. It was hoped that the ADA would improve the employment situation but it has not. (Michael has studied disability employment in the US for over 25 years and around the world. A book on this topic will be coming out next month.)

2) What’s the most jarring finding you have found from your studies?

Almost 80% of working age adults with disabilities are unemployed. When the overall unemployment rate reached 9%, it was considered a matter of great public attention and almost a national crisis. But yet the national disability unemployment rate has never been lower than 66% and over the last few years it has held steady at nearly at 80%. The fact that it doesn’t raise the same sort of red flags and calls to action is concerning.

3) Is the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) really a game changer? If yes, how so?

I view the CRPD as a remarkable tool that can be used to leverage change. It ultimately depends on local civil societies and how they use the tools. We see it as a lever on a national level for the creation of progressive and inclusive laws, policies and programming.

michael stein II

Picture courtesy of: http://b.globe.com/1gDj4y6

On an international level we see it being very effective in how the UN approaches disabilities. We’re seeing donor organizations now changing their guidelines to be inclusive- not as special projects but included in all the projects they’re doing bilaterally. On the individual national level- it really depends on the social and legal culture, what the alternatives are and how active the civil society is, which shows how conducive government is to change. In some places, I’ve been told by ministers that they will not change their policies. In other places, it’s been a wake-up call, it’s been an educational device and policy makers have begun to think how to approach differently almost invariably their largest minority group.

Is it a game- changer? At the end of the day, it depends how active civil society is and how well they pair with non-disability sectors to find areas of common interest and team up with them on projects.

4) The state of technology for people with disabilities- passing grade? Are apps made with people with disabilities in mind? If not, that’s a huge population to not serve.

Globally, new technology has in some areas embraced inclusion. The technology is certainly there to make all these apps accessible. The technology is cheap and incredibly easy to implement. But by and large, the needs and rights of people with disability are not taken into account.

It’s frustrating- I hear the anger and exclusion from many friends and different groups. Especially because this is a new world created by supposedly young, savvy, cosmopolitan people who have no excuse for excluding people with disabilities. To embed barriers into new structures seems to me to be a lost opportunity as well as a harmful and avoidable phenomenon.

Big businesses are by & large aware of it and some are more savvy than others. Microsoft has been rather good on accessibility. Amazon, on the other hand, has been obnoxious on the issue. For example, Amazon has been approached time and again about the Kindle but refuses to make it accessible.

5) Employment discrimination: Do you believe that people with disabilities face barriers to finding a job?

Empirical evidence from all over the globe suggests there’s a real disconnect policy-wise when we think about people with disabilities and the workplace. In terms of Western notions, people are viewed either as work capable or disabled; if they’re disabled, then they’re not meant to be working.  We don’t think enough about people’s different abilities, how to cultivate those abilities, getting them integrated into the workplace, why work is valuable especially when it comes to interacting with other people.

Michael Stein holds a J.D. from Harvard Law School and a Ph.D. from Cambridge University and is the Co-founder and Executive Director of the Harvard Law School Project on Disability. An internationally acclaimed expert on disability law and policy, Stein participated in the drafting of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, works with disabled persons organizations around the world, actively consults with international governments on their disability laws and policies, and advises a number of United Nations bodies.

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When The Time Comes

Below is a speech given at the graduation ceremony for this year’s participants in Camp Ramah California’s Ezra voc-ed program.

Shaina BarnettBy: Shaina Barnett

Hello and bruchim habaim (welcome), everyone. My name is Shaina Barnett and I’m graduating this summer. I started in the summer of 2008 and entered the Ezra Staff Program in 2010, making a total of six summers here at Camp Ramah. Since joining Ezra, the jobs I’ve had were from helping sorting out mail, to working outside of camp at the Humane Society of Ventura County. The opportunities I have experienced while holding these jobs gave me a sense of confidence as well as feeling more responsible as an adult. Some other things I’ve learned about being in Ezra are how to interact with my peers, which is not always easy, and I’ve learned to be well aware to listen to others and be clear what my supervisors tell me.

To me, camp is one of many things: my second home, my own perfect world, a place where I can feel safe and where such magical things happen, cliche as it sounds. I feel that in this sacred and condensed environment, we are a community of more than just Jewish people. We are a community as a whole. Which is why I thank God that the Tikvah Program exists.

Growing up with autism all my life, the struggles and obstacles life threw at me were a constant battle. I never really knew or understand human relationships and had trouble trying to blend in or even structure a simple conversation. Relationships such as with friends or my siblings were strained because I never felt like myself; I always had to be someone else, desperate for acceptance. But Camp Ramah changed all that. With an environment structured with people from all walks of life, the feeling of being welcome among my peers and others of all ages is an overwhelmingly amazing feeling. I feel safe from harsh judgments and over time spending my summers here, I grew to accept the person I am. I am no longer ashamed of my autism. Even my social skills have improved greatly as my perspective of life and my spirituality.

As a young Jewish woman, my pride in my heritage grew at camp. Although the pride was always there, being at camp with Jews from all backgrounds and with Tikvah’s help making connections with other campers and staff helped me apply the teachings of Torah to my everyday life. This year, I achieved my desires of making my own tallit and speaking about my autism to the Machones on behalf of the Tikvah Program. These accomplishments will always be a reminder to me of what I can achieve.

California tikvah

We have all heard the expression “when one door closes, another one opens”. After moving out of my parents’ house the previous year and virtually living independently in my apartment, I knew I am ready for bigger challenges and better things life has to offer. The Tikvah Program helps and understands that. As adults, we have the obligation to move forward in life for life is not stationary. Of all the hardest decisions and transitions I have made in my life thus far, leaving camp and graduating Ezra is without doubt the hardest transition for me, because this to me is my home. Though many tears will be shed, we must remember that we the Jewish people have a saying for such transitions in life: we must remember that goodbyes are not forever, but a l’hitraot, until we meet again. Because we stuck together as if we were family and we shall forever more stick together in our hearts. With that being said, I wish you all good luck and success in your endeavors and a long, happy life.

I would like to take this time to thank all those who gave me not only six memorable summers here at Camp Ramah, but who have influenced me in my life. I would first like to thank my family and friends for their tough love and support to making me the person I am today and for giving me motivation to go forward. I give my thanks to my many awesome coordinators, to Deborah for her wisdom and teachings of Torah and Rabbi Joe for successfully running this wonderful place and making it better year after year.

Thank you Elana Naftalin-Kelman for her love for us and her endless hard work which enabled us to come together and build friendships and memories that would last a lifetime. Thank you David Abraham, our best friend, our big brother. His guidance and unlimited patience as he gave us tools to survive adulthood in the workforce are what truly benefit the Ezra Staff.

When I think of David, Elana, and those who I give thanks to, I think of the song, Darkeinu, Our Path. For we bless God for keeping us on the path we want to follow and we bless our staff and coordinators for helping us pursue our path. I am aware that following my part is no easy task, but I will prevail. I am no longer afraid of what is waiting ahead of me because I have already conquered challenges that lie behind me. I always mention the words “when the time comes…”, and now this is my time. This is my year. And I will own it and succeed. My heart goes out to you all and you will always be in my heart. A huge and ultimate Todah Rabah (thank you) to all of you for six memorable summers here at Camp Ramah. Todah Rabah.

My name is Shaina Roxanne Barnett. I am 22 years old from the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles, CA. I’ve been going to Camp Ramah in California for 6 summers and 7 sessions. I’m a student at Los Angeles Pierce College and a secretary at the Pierce College Gay Straight Alliance as well as a lead singer in Temple Aliyah’s OurSpace program called Kolot Tikvah. I love music, art, animals, and teaching the world about Autism and advocating for human equality.

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Customer Service When You Enter CVS

Michael LibermanBy Michael Liberman- Transitions to Work Graduate

When I first started Transitions to Work, the Director, Madeline Wenzel, told me I would be doing a 3 month training to learn register and customer service skills. I started the class and was taught how to use the cash register, stock the shelves, how to keep the store clean and how to properly greet customers.

One week after completing the training course, the staff from the Transitions to Work program helped me get a three month internship at the CVS in Government Center. The internship would give me a chance to apply what I had learned in the training to working in a real store. On the first day of my internship one of the co-workers in the store was showing me how to stock shelves. I was given an aisle and I had to put items on the shelves and keep them clean. I did that and I loved it.

A little while into my internship, my manager came up to me and told me that she wanted to hire me as a Greeter in the store. I went home and thought about the position of Greeter and made the decision to accept the offer. As a Greeter, it is my job to stand by the door and say “Hello, how are you today, do you need help finding anything,” and I tell the customer to have a great day when I finish helping him/her. If the customer needs help, I walk them to the aisle and show them where the item is and explain to them the sale of that particular product. I make sure to use all of the GOT (greet, offer and thank) steps I learned during my training to each customer so they all continue shopping at our store.

I have been working in this CVS for about 5 1/2 months and I really like the people I work with. It feels good to be making money and making some new friends too. My experience working at a CVS has been great. I have even been employee of the week twice!  Everybody keeps telling me what a good job I am doing and to keep up the good work. Getting such positive feedback from my manager and co-workers makes me feel good.

CVS Michael Wenzel and Lianne Tan

Michael with CVS manager Lianne Tan

The Store Manager of the store recently sent me an email sharing a customer comment. “This store is amazing. All the staff here is helpful and especially Michael. He is the face of your store and it’s so nice to have him walk me to my items and take his time to explain to me about the products. I really appreciate him!”  My Assistant Manager thanked me for all of my help and greeting customers as they walk in the store and told me that our customer feedback is positive when I am working. I continue to provide good customer service to the customers so they will continue shopping in this store.

As I am working I am meeting some more people to talk to. A graduate from the last Transitions to Work CVS session just started an internship in my store and I recently helped her by showing her what I do as a Greeter. I started working here on March 26, 2013 and I am happy that I had the opportunity to get this job. I am glad to have been a part of the Transitions to Work program and I am grateful to the Ruderman Family Foundation, Combined Jewish Philanthropies, CVS and Jewish Vocational Service for making this program possible.

 Michael is a graduate of the Transitions to Work Program.  He is 21 years old and lives in Sharon, MA

TransitionsLogo_webTransitions to Work is a collaboration among Combined Jewish Philanthropies, The Ruderman Family Foundation and Jewish Vocational Service, to build relationships with employers to raise awareness about inclusive hiring practices and to engage corporate partners to consider young adults with disabilities as qualified, committed candidates for appropriate employment opportunities.  Transitions to Work provides an extensive 12 week training and internship program to enable young adults with disabilities to develop the skills needed for employment and place them into jobs that provide earnings and a sense of purpose.  

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Disabled Individuals Bring Innovation To The Workforce

JayRudermanBelow is an op-ed I wrote for Huffington Post about the positive aspects of full inclusion of people with disabilities in the workforce.

Jay

As the U.S. disabled population grows amidst increasing challenges to American economic competitiveness on the world stage, the time is ripe to change our perceptions of disability and integrally incorporate the creative and often resilient disabled population into our workforce.

The American Association of People With Disabilities recently reported that the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is twice the national average. During the recession, people with disabilities lost jobs five times faster than people without disabilities. In addition, only 25 percent of people with disabilities are meaningfully employed, while 75 percent are unemployed or underemployed. Contrary to popular belief, this in large part is not due to a lack of desire or capability to work.

Disabled individuals overwhelmingly want to work — and they bring innovative perspectives to the table. Employees with disabilities have skills and experience that can’t be found in other population sectors.

President_Franklin_D._Roosevelt-1941After all, many of the greatest innovators and leaders in history had disabilities-and the challenges they faced played a critical role in their ability to achieve greatness. President Roosevelt, though unable to walk, led the mightiest country in history through the Great Depression and World War II. The father of relativity, Mr. Einstein himself, experienced learning disabilities in his youth. And Beethoven, arguably the greatest composer of all time, couldn’t hear!

Since confronted with life difficulties that require creative adaptation and ingenuity on a daily basis, disabled individuals know resilience, and they know how to think out-of-the-box and on their feet, or wheels. In fact, recent studies show employers who hire people with disabilities report a higher level of dedication and increased retention.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, workers with disabilities are rated consistently as average or above average in performance, quality and quantity of work, flexibility, and attendance.

The growth rate of the American disabled population is growing tremendously and is outpacing any other subgroup of the U.S. population, according to the Disability Funders Network. Between 1990 and 2000, for example, the number of Americans with disabilities increased 25 percent, making people with disabilities represent the single largest minority group seeking employment in today’s marketplace.

At the same time, the disabled are nearly twice as likely as people without disabilities to have an annual household income of $15,000 or less.

For the sake of U.S. competitiveness — and above all, equality — it is time to prove wrong the common misperception that individuals with disabilities are non-active members of society. It is time to reframe the negative perception of disability as instead an opportunity-filled and growth-inducing challenge. It is time for employers to hire people with disabilities. It is time to pursue a policy of inclusion and smart economics, quiet simply because disabled individuals bring uniqueness and innovation to the workplace — something our economy vitally requires.

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