Individuals with disabilities constitute the world’s single largest minority group, an estimated one billion people or 15 percent of the world’s population. They comprise one in five Americans and that number will increase as our population ages. Additionally, it is the only group which any of us could find ourselves belonging to at any time.
Seventy percent of Americans with disabilities report that they want to work full-time, but only about 21 percent do, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics. Further, demographics show a retirement tidal wave approaching. Over the next 15 years, 2 million Massachusetts baby boomers will turn 55, and the over-65 population will increase by 35 percent. If businesses want to keep production and staffing levels up, they must investigate new populations of workers.
Many businesses fear that hiring individuals with disabilities will affect their insurance rates or that expensive accommodations will have to be put into place. The majority of accommodations cost less than $50, and most often, they are nothing more than schedule changes to accommodate medical appointments. There are no increased insurance costs.
As the CEO of WORK Inc. in Dorchester that provides individuals with disabilities training, placement and employment support, serving over 800 individuals across the state and over 150 in the Dorchester area, 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. While it’s not typically easy for small companies to recruit, train and accommodate workers who have physical disabilities, agencies like WORK Inc. can certainly smooth out the process by virtue of having over 45 years’ experience in both supporting the employer and employee.
The real beauty of this endeavor is that it 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 an increased paycheck and contribute to the economy. And finally, society as a whole wins. Since most individuals with disabilities receive some form of government assistance, when working, they reduce their dependence on government support and join the ranks of taxpayers.
Contrary to prevailing political opinion “Job Creation” is not driven by business tycoons getting tax breaks, but by middle and working class people having enough income to drive the cycle of buying and selling services and goods that makes the whole economy thrive. Employing people with disabilities not only increases their capacity to participate in this economic cycle, it provides the workers that are going to be needed in the coming years to ensure the competitive capacity of American businesses.
There should be no barrier to work for any individual who can do a job. Since any of us, at any time could find ourselves in need of such accommodation, it behooves us to consider that the only real barrier to employing individuals with disabilities is unfamiliarity and stigma, neither of which enhance 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.
Quite frankly, 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 to begin with. The time is now.
Jim Cassetta is the CEO/President of WORK Inc., based on Freeport Street in Dorchester.