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For people with disabilities, job training isn’t enough — we must counter the charity stereotype

  • Joanna
  • November 21, 2016

Inclusion works.

That is the message of a national campaign seeking to highlight the benefits of bringing more people with disabilities into the workforce.

It’s also a central tenet of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which made significant changes to federal laws aimed at helping workers with disabilities access employment, education, job training and other support services.

These changes include:

  • A larger role for vocational rehabilitation for people with disabilities beginning their working lives.

  • Limits on the use of sub-minimum wage paychecks as an incentive for hiring people with disabilities.

  • Enhanced resources in One-Stop Career Centers specifically for people with disabilities.

But Chris Brandt, the CEO of AtWork, which endeavors to connect mainstream employers with workers with disabilities in Washington state, says it’s not enough to simply change the laws. Brandt says it’s time for a change in conventional ideas about what it truly means to employ a person with disabilities.

And that change, Brandt says, must start with the recognition that employing people with disabilities isn’t an act of charity.

“These are not ‘charity jobs,’” Brandt says. “Businesses are not employing people with disabilities because they are altruistic.”

Rather, she points out, businesses that implement inclusive hiring practices derive an actual — and excellent — return on investment.

That starts with with the kind of return a business owner expects from any employee. “Their work is done accurately and efficiently,” Brandt says.

Further, she notes, customers are increasingly making it clear that they want to do business with companies that are inclusive, and employees are making it clear that they place a premium on working for a company that embraces all kinds of diversity.

Brandt would know. Her organization has helped connect more than 250 businesses with disabled workers who are eager for an opportunity to demonstrate their value to a company’s goals and culture.

Despite these sorts of successes, though, the “charity” stereotype still prevails across the nation. That’s why an important part of the mission of any organization, municipality or state that is trying to prepare individuals with disabilities for the workforce also needs to be front and center in the effort to change long-held assumptions. It does no good to prepare people for the workforce, after all, if they’re not truly welcomed there to begin with.

And that effort, for everyone, can start with two simple words: Inclusion works.