More businesses learned about the benefits of employing people with mental and physical developmental disabilities at a recent annual Hire Ability Day event here, conducted the last five years to boost such hiring, the event's primary organizer says.
Event participants who have hired people with developmental disabilities say those employees are eager workers who are dependable, can perform in a variety of positions, and are a benefit to their employer. Employers interviewed for this story say people with developmental disabilities also provide important diversity in the work force.
Organizer Brian Nichols, developmental disabilities program director for Spokane County Community Services, says the Hire Ability Day event, on Oct. 21, was well attended, with 300 peopleincluding 150 business representativescapping the day with a luncheon at the Davenport Hotel.
Earlier in the day, more than 40 people with disabilities were paired with more than 30 community employers in a Morning on the Job event.
Participating businesses hosted one or two people with disabilities, toured different job sites along with a job coach, learned about the businesses, met employees, and assisted with projects or tasks that demonstrated their skills, Nichols says.
Each year after the event, new businesses join others in hiring people with developmental disabilities, who appreciate a chance to be more productive and to contribute as members of their community, Nichols says.
"Supported employment," which includes job coaches, transportation, assistive technology, specialized training, and tailored supervision, "is not a charity model," he says. "It is a good-sense model that makes a positive contribution for the person working, those who work with them, and the company's bottom line."
He says the participation during the Morning on the Job event and attendance at the luncheon topped last year's participation. Hire Ability Day is a project of a nonprofit consortium that includes Spokane County Community Services, people with developmental disabilities, their families, and other community organizations, he says.
The event's value to businesses, he says, is that participating employers get the chance to meet people with developmental disabilities and observe them doing work in a job setting.
"Hopefully, they will consider including persons with developmental disabilities in their work force," Nichols says. "After hearing others in the world of business at the luncheon share their positive experiences, we hope they understand more of the value of developmental diversity in the workplace."
He says people with such disabilities can "become taxpayers, more independent, and rely less on government support. They bring positive changes to the morale and productivity of businesses that hire them."
The Hire Ability Day event's keynote speaker, Brian Kingsbury, Spokane district manager for Safeway Inc., described the advantages of hiring people with disabilities. The national supermarket chain, which operates more than 1,700 stores in the U.S. and western Canada, currently employs nearly 10,000 people with intellectual and physical disabilities.
Kingsbury, in an interview after the event, says roughly 6 percent of the company's employees have developmental disabilities, companywide and locally.
"It's just part of the culture of the company," Kingsbury says. "It's the right thing to do for the business."
Last month, the U.S. Department of Labor gave Safeway Chairman, President and CEO Steve Burd the department's 2008 SPIRIT Award for helping further employment and workplace opportunities for developmentally disabled people.
Kingsbury says that when Safeway stores are looking to fill an open position, and are considering an applicant with a disability, "You just have to think of what's possible. You consider their disability, but you also need to take a look at their strengths."
Those who have been hired by Safeway perform a wide array of jobs, he says.
Hiring people with developmental disabilities diversifies the employee population, making it reflect the makeup of the community more accurately, he says.
It gives the disabled workers a sense of purpose, and they are often the most committed and loyal employees, and have cheerful and outgoing personalities that customers appreciate, he says.
"These people tend to have very strong attendance records," Kingsbury says. "You can count on them being there and count on the job getting done."
Between now and 2015, as the baby boomers retire, American industry will need between 10 and 15 million new workers, says the National Organization on Disability in Washington, D.C. There are currently 22 million working-age Americans with disabilities, and studies show that two-thirds of the disability population wants to and can work, the organization says.
Seventy percent of workplace accommodations can be made for less than $500, it says.
Also, it says the disability community comprises nearly one-fifth of the American population, and is a relatively untapped market worth more than $220 billion in collective spending power. Like other niche markets, the disability community responds positively to companies whose marketing approaches are sensitive to its needs and interests, the organization says.
Peggy Mangiaracina, executive director of Sacred Heart Children's Hospital, says the hospital has eight people with developmental disabilities employed through its Project Search program. That program matches qualified employees with open positions and provides on-the-job support, including coaching and training, she says. Mangiaracina represented Sacred Heart Medical Center & Children's Hospital at the Hire Ability Day event.
The hospital teams up with the Washington Initiative for Supported Employment, Skils'kin, Community-Minded Enterprises, and Spokane County Community Services to put those people to work, she says. Project Search is a replication of a program conducted at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, she says.
Employees hired through Project Search now work in the hospital's psychiatry services department, food-and-nutrition services, the hospital laboratory, the sterile processing department, materials management department, and environmental services department, Mangiaracina says.
"They are all matched to their abilities," Mangiaracina says. "(Project Search) really fits with our mission and our core values, because these individuals really want to be recognized for a job well done."
Subscribe today to our free E-Newsletters!SUBSCRIBE