Over the 20 years that I’ve been working with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), I’ve seen an uptick in employers hiring people with I/DD as a way to create a diverse and inclusive workforce. It’s satisfying to see employers recognizing the benefits of including people with I/DD as part of their workforce.
In fact, recent research points to diversity and inclusion in the workforce having a profound positive affect on businesses. According to TalentLyft, a diverse workforce creates higher employee engagement, provides a variety of different perspectives and problem solving, and improves hiring results—benefits that many employers are beginning to value as they look to recruit. A study, Diversity Matters, found that having a diverse workforce impacts increased financial earnings.
As we honor National Disability Employment Awareness Month this October, we want to encourage businesses to continue to foster their interest in looking beyond the traditional workforce to build a more diverse and inclusive one. With more than 19 percent of adults in Maryland having a developmental disability, many are eager to find meaningful work and become financially independent. In fact, Maryland state population statistics show that the number of people with disabilities who are employed has increased between 2009 and 2016, with 34 percent of people with a disability and 25 percent of people with a cognitive disability employed out of the working population ages16 to 64.
As employers become increasingly interested in recruiting people with I/DD, some may be unsure of how to navigate the hiring process or unfamiliar with the types of accommodations that will be needed to create job success. Companies that want to hire people with I/DD should look to organizations that can help them reach this talented pool of employees.
For example, The Arc Central Chesapeake Region (The Arc) has a workforce program and partners with more than 40 employers in Anne Arundel County who have recruited and employed nearly 60 people with I/DD. Live! Hotel and Casino is one local company that has recruited 11 of its employees through its long-time partnership with The Arc.
All of the Live! employees supported by The Arc have built their skill-sets and work experience through their tenure. Wegmen’s in Gambrills is another partner that has employed a handful of people supported by The Arc to fill opportunities in prepared foods, produce or as a helping hand.
The process for hiring people with I/DD by working with organizations like The Arc is simple and not much different than working with other types of employment agencies. Companies meet with The Arc’s workforce program team to inform them of job openings. The Arc looks to its pool of candidates and talks with those who would have an interest in the position. An Employment Specialist helps the candidate apply for the job. Candidates then go through the interview process and provide their work experience and references.
One thing to consider when designing the interview process is providing alternative opportunities for candidates to demonstrate their qualifications beyond the traditional face-to-face interview. For instance, a walk through at the job site and demonstration of the job requirements allows the candidate and employer to converse about skills, work experience and expectations. The employer might find that a more visual presentation of the job opportunity could attract a candidate with genuine enthusiasm for the position.
Once an employee is hired, the job coach supports the new employee transition into the new position, helps the employer make any accommodations for a disability, and provides guidance on how to help the employee succeed in the new role. One tip program directors remind employers is that employees of all abilities should be held up to the same level of job accountability. This ensures employer’s needs are being met and also sets employees up for goal setting and success.
While October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, we encourage employers to think about recruiting diverse workforces throughout the year. Lean on organizations such as The Arc to help fill job opportunities with people with I/DD. Continue to create a work culture that’s dynamic, diverse and inclusive. For more information about The Arc’s workforce program, please visit thearcccr.org/workforce-development/
Jonathon Rondeau is CEO of The Arc Central Chesapeake Region.