The benefits of integrated employment for people with disabilities

Two men wearing masks are working with metal in a workshop

Unemployment is one of the biggest challenges facing people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the United States today. In fact, only 16% of people with developmental disabilities have paid, integrated employment.

Many people with disabilities are employed in segregated work centers. While beneficial for some, many others may benefit from an opportunity to work in an integrated job in their communities. And it’s not only the employees who benefit. Companies who employ people with intellectual disabilities reap the benefits as well. Yet some employers are still hesitant to hire those with disabilities. Here are the facts about employment for people with disabilities today and how integrated community employment benefits everyone involved.

Year after year, statistics show that unemployment is one of the major issues affecting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the United States. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the percentage of people with disabilities in the work force is only of third of those who do not have a disability.

In 2019, the number of working age people with disabilities in the United States was around 20 million. However, only about 7.5 million of those people have been able to find employment. Clearly, the unemployment crisis for people with disabilities is real.

Companies see benefits of hiring workers with disabilities

According to a recent study, companies who actively employ people with disabilities are more profitable than those who don’t. Twenty-eight percent more profitable, in fact. The list includes companies like Bank of America, which recently hired 300 people with intellectual disabilities to create a customer support team, and companies like Microsoft, which has implemented a hiring and training program aimed at supporting people with autism.

Not only is it beneficial to hire those with disabilities, there really is no excuse not to. But for some reason, employers still seem hesitant to hire people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Below are four “reasons” that employers cite to support their case and our many reasons why these don’t hold up.

“They won’t show up on time.” A job creator may look at a person with a disability and think they will not be reliable, or will have too many medical appointments. But in our experience, we’ve found that most are serious about their jobs and about bettering themselves. Working together with their job coaches, like the ones at AbleLight, they find ways to make sure tardiness or absence is not an issue. It can be as simple as finding the right alarm clock or getting reminders from Alexa.

“They’ll need too much help.” It’s true that people with a disability may need some assistance to get going, either more hands-on training or some physical help. For example, a restaurant worker might need a special knife for food prep or an alternate stool or chair to sit on if needed. But once trained, they will work – hard. Plus, funds for accommodations may be available through state Divisions of Vocational Rehabilitation and Medicaid waivers, so cost to the employer may not be an issue at all.

“They won’t be around long.” We’ve found that more than 90% of people we support in Colorado are still placed after three years. They are happy doing what they’re doing, so they stay. We support individuals who have been employed with the same company for more than 15 years. Some have grown in their positions and remain happy and fulfilled. In addition, we have also split a full-time position and the employer gained two loyal part time employees.

“It doesn’t matter to our customers.” Oh, it does matter. Organizations that employ individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities are looked upon more favorably than ones that don’t. According to one study, more than 80% of the public would rather do business with a disability friendly employer. Plus, being open to people with disabilities in a public way attracts another potential customer group – people with disabilities!

While employment may not be an option for some people with intellectual or developmental disabilities, there are many people who could benefit greatly from integrated community employment. And as recent studies have shown, their employers benefit too. Employers’ hesitancies hold no ground and people with disabilities contribute to a successful business. Being an informed employer helps your bottom line.