Tuesday September 15, 2015 0 comments
LARIMER COUNTY -- The Arc of Larimer County, a nonprofit organization that advocates for the legal and social equality of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, is asking an important question: What if everyone had a chance to be their best?
In the 1970s, pop music icon John Lennon imagined a world where everyone worked together to make it a better place.
It’s not a new idea, but when his song, “Imagine,” was released it became a classic. Nearly 50 years later, businesses are often lauded for their ability to do just that -- imagine a different way to do something.
So, what if an idea like “Everybody Works” could be a reality?
Colorado was recently recognized as having the second-best economy in the country. The state is also near the top in most business startups. The evidence of growth is all around us and new companies are launched every day,
New businesses need employees. But one group of hopeful workers is left out. Colorado employers lag behind other states in employing workers with disabilities. Workers are willing and able, but employers are slow to hire because of stereotypes and myths.
Enter the Everybody Works initiative, a strategic effort spearheaded by The Arc of Larimer County to promote the hiring and gainful employment of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The initiative serves as a conduit for information for employers, human resources professionals and business owners interested in expanding their workforce and hiring motivated employees. But the challenges are numerous, and education is a huge barrier that the initiative seeks to overcome.
Cari Brown, whose son has been diagnosed with autism, sometimes wonders what the future holds for him.
“My son, Craig, is just five years old,” she says, “so he doesn’t even have a grasp of what a ‘job’ is. I’m hopeful that by removing stereotypes and encouraging hiring managers to look at each applicant as an individual who wants a job they will enjoy, that Craig will never know the sting of employment discrimination.”
She dares to ask ‘What if’ and imagines a different world. “After all, I want for him what every parent wants for their child -- for him to be whatever he wants to be when he grows up.”
Hopes and dreams like this may be coming true. Marilee Boylan, executive director of The Arc of Larimer County, says employers are just beginning to recognize there’s a huge, untapped labor force waiting to go to work. Right now, 80 percent of working-age adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities like Downs Syndrome and autism are unemployed -- not because they lack the skills they need, but because there’s a lack of opportunity.
With Everybody Works, advocates envision a landscape of equal opportunity, where everybody can find a job that fits their skills and abilities. By showing that common beliefs are inaccurate through a series of workshops and publications, Everybody Works strives to help employers understand that workers who have disabilities can hold their own with the rest of the workforce.
Jessica Grady works at Columbine Health Systems delivering mail throughout the Columbine campus.
“My job is very important because I help people out doing the mail. It helps people do their own jobs so they don't have to take time to get the mail.”
Jessica has been working at Columbine Health Systems for six years.
“Jessica’s job as the mail clerk at Columbine plays an integral role in the daily function of the company,” says office manager Molly Gray. “However, her fun personality and positive attitude is more indispensable to those who she comes into contact with each day. Her sunny disposition is absolutely contagious.”
And there’s another reason why employers might want to hire employees with disabilities. Consumers respond positively to companies that actively demonstrate equal employment and show their appreciation with their dollars -- positively impacting the bottom line.
A national survey of consumer attitudes toward companies that hire people with disabilities, published in 2006, found customer attitudes toward businesses that hire employees with disabilities showed 92 percent of the study participants felt more favorable toward employers who hire people with disabilities, with with 87 percent saying they would prefer to do business with those companies.
As The Arc envisions it, the “Everybody Works” initiative is bridging the gap between employers feeling the labor crunch and a motivated workforce waiting in the wings -- it's an idea whose time is now.
Over the next few months, The Arc is offering training sessions titled "Human Resources and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
These courses are designed for human resources and hiring managers, but anyone is welcome to attend.
“Everybody Works.” Just imagine what that might mean -- not just for employees but for employers as well.
- Sept. 30 --“ADA 101 Compliance Workshop,” 6-8 p.m.
- Oct. 28 --“ADA Considerations When Recruiting and Hiring,” 6-8 p.m.
- Nov. 11 --“Engaging and Managing Employees With Disabilities,” 6-8 p.m.
Cost is $50 for each course or $125 for all three. The Arc of Larimer County members and students (with a valid student ID) can register for for $25 per course or $70 for all three.
To register, visit EverybodyWorksCO.org and click "Register for ADA Trainings."