There is a group of workers out there who are uniquely qualified for many jobs, intensely interested in working and being as independent as possible, often joyful in attitude and thankful for the little things many of us take for granted.
They are adults with cognitive and intellectual disabilities.
I’m not talking about “pity” jobs here. I’m talking about people with real talents who are looking to share those talents with others in a way that is mutually beneficial. Most of us call that a “career” but for the disabled, a career can be hard to come by. Chalk it up to misunderstanding, ignorance and prejudice. However, businesses are getting on board.
More and more companies out there are realizing there’s an untapped pool of talent that makes for very good workers,” [said] Peter Bell, President and CEO of Eden Autism Services, “Employers are becoming interested in hiring these people not because it’s charity, but because it’s the right business decision.”
The United States Business Leadership Network (USBLN) grew from this intersection between capitalism and disability, with a focus on helping businesses increase performance by leveraging disability inclusion in the workplace, supply chain and marketplace. The organization’s driving ethos is that business responds to its peers; if a company’s competitors are showing positive returns to their shareholders, that company will want to follow suit.
In Jefferson County, Alabama, an agency servicing the needs of adults with intellectual disabilities, could not find companies to hire their clients, so they took a “wildly entrepreneurial” approach: building their own businesses, including a bakery and a shredding business. In a viral video, Embassy Suites was highlighted as an employer, when a young man with Downs Syndrome enthusiastically reacted to a job offer.
Jill Houghton, Executive Director of USBLN, says none of this means businesses are lowering their expectations:
Sometimes we underestimate people’s abilities,” she said. “Sometimes in the name of helping people, we hold them back. But businesses, they’re just looking for good employees. I see powerful success stories every day. And I believe that business can help motivate the change for people with disabilities.”
As the mother of a young adult with cognitive disabilities, my hope for my child is that meaningful work is part of her future. I want her to enjoy the same pleasures I’ve derived from my work, and I know she has gifts to share.