Local view: People with disabilities are a vital part of the nation’s work forceOctober is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and it’s a good time to consider the challenges that people with disabilities face as they search for jobs or enter the working world.
By: Valerie Clark, Duluth News Tribune
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and it’s a good time to consider the challenges that people with disabilities face as they search for jobs or enter the working world.
Imagine what your day would be like without your job. What would motivate you to get up in the morning? How would you spend your day? Where would you be able to meet new people? For thousands of people with disabilities in the Northland, this is a daily reality.
Goodwill works to change that reality by creating job opportunities and training for people with disabilities and others with barriers to employment.
Finding gainful employment is particularly difficult right now, given the economic slowdown of the past few years. That’s especially true for the 19 percent of Americans who have a disability. Statistics from the Department of Labor illustrate the importance of Goodwill’s mission: Of people age 16 and up, only 21 percent with disabilities are employed, compared to 70 percent of people without disabilities.
At Goodwill, we strive to improve those statistics in the Northland. Goodwill Duluth employs more than 200 people with disabilities, and we know firsthand the benefits of a diverse, inclusive work force. Our workers are motivated, dedicated and hardworking. For our program participants, the benefits of having a job go far beyond payday. Work creates a daily structure, a social forum and a sense of purpose.
For many participants, a center-based job at Goodwill’s Garfield Avenue distribution facility marks their first time venturing into the workplace and offers a chance for independence that they might not otherwise be able to experience. After gaining key work skills, many of our program participants move on to community employment with one of our nearly 30 local business partners, including Minnesota Power and Bernick’s.
Having a job makes an incalculable impact in the lives of Goodwill program participants like Willie Stevens.
“Working helps with the symptoms of mental-health problems,” Stevens said. “It makes a big difference.”
Stevens, 48, has impaired vision along with a history of physical and mental-health problems that made it difficult for him to find steady employment. That changed when he turned to Goodwill for help in 1996.
“It was an important time in my life,” he said. “After six or eight years of not working … there was a big gap there.”
After a few years of center-based employment at Goodwill, Willie was matched up with an office job at St. Louis County Social Services. He’s been there for 10 years and currently works about 25 hours a week.
“Goodwill having me here is a real blessing,” he said. “They got me off of a stretch of unemployment. I’m a lot better off working than not. I can’t just sit and do nothing.”
For local organizations and employers, working with Goodwill is more than a great way to help our mission, stimulate the local economy and give back to the community; it’s also a smart business decision. According to a 30-year study from Dupont, employees with disabilities have above-average records in job performance, dependability, attendance and safety. If any special accommodations are required, the Job Accommodation Network reports that those accommodations usually are minimal and cost the employer less than $500.
So consider supporting Goodwill’s mission this month by hiring someone with a disability. Everyone deserves the chance to work.
Valerie Clark is a public relations specialist for Goodwill Duluth.