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Smart employers should embrace disabled workforce; no downside

The theme of this year’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month is “Because we are all EQUAL to the task.” The slogan reflects the reality that people with disabilities have the education, training, experience and the desire to be successful in the workplace.

Seventy percent of Americans with disabilities report that they want to work full-time, but only about 21 percent do according to U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics. With an unemployment rate hovering at 70 percent, clearly we have a long way to go in this effort.

Further, demographics show a retirement tidal wave approaching. Over the next 15 years, two million Massachusetts baby boomers will turn 55, and the over-65 population will increase by 35 percent. If businesses want to stay competitive, and keep production and staffing levels up, they must investigate new populations of workers. Unemployed people with disabilities may be our greatest untapped labor pool.

As CEO of WORK Inc., I have witnessed time and again the drive and dedication of individuals who, after being denied the benefits of employment for so long, embrace their jobs, when they fully inhabit the working life. Our agency in Dorchester provides individuals with disabilities training, placement and employment support, currently serving over 800 people across the state and over 150 in the Dorchester area. These new workers are proud, with renewed purpose and a greater sense community inclusion.

Since 1967 WORK Inc. has been providing employment training and placement for people who have significant disabilities and while it’s not easy for small companies to recruit, train and accommodate workers who have disabilities agencies like WORK Inc. can certainly smooth out the process by virtue of more than four decades of experience in supporting both the employee and employer.

On the fiscal side, this is a triple win. Businesses score by using placement services that provide diversified, qualified and trained workers at no cost to them. Individuals with disabilities get a chance to participate more fully in society, enjoy the financial benefits of a paycheck and contribute to the economy. And finally, society as a whole wins. Since most of the individuals we serve receive some sort of government assistance, when working, they reduce their dependence on government support and join the ranks of taxpayers.

There should be no barrier to work for any individual who can do a job. I call upon state and municipal officials to mirror new Federal regulations calling for the inclusion of up to 7 percent of employees with disabilities on any government contract. This would go a long way to solving this nearly intractable problem of low employment for disabled people. Any of us at any time could join what is considered the largest minority group in the world, so it behooves us to consider that the only real barrier to employing individuals with disabilities is unfamiliarity and stigma, neither which will enhance either our common humanity nor our pragmatic need for good workers.

If you are an individual with disabilities seeking a job or an employer seeking qualified well trained workers please contact me at 617-691-1502.

“Because we are all EQUAL to the task” there is no downside here. Employing people with disabilities ensures that the American Dream is reachable for all our citizens, even those who may need an extra hand in getting started.

Jim Cassetta is the President and CEO of WORK Inc. in Dorchester.