People with Disabilities May Expand your Workforce
With unemployment rates at record lows, many Sioux Falls businesses may be overlooking a valuable demographic to fill workforce needs. The people served by agencies like LifeScape and DakotAbilities want to work, and both agencies help connect potential employees with job opportunities that fit their skills and interests.
As part of its mission to serve adults with disabilities, DakotAbilities helps people navigate the process of applying for Vocational Rehabilitation, a program through the State of South Dakota that enables people with disabilities to find and hold compatible jobs.
“It’s really individualized how I support each person. Coordinating rides, communicating with their employment counselor, really supporting them overall,” says Megan Anderson, community day manager at DakotAbilities. Anderson helps people identify what kinds of jobs might interest them and align with their strengths, and also assists with applications and interview preparation.
LifeScape has a team dedicated to hands-on job searching and career coaching. Employment specialists assess the employee’s interests and actively search for businesses that might be a good fit. “We’ll go out with [prospective employees] in the community and hop into businesses to explain what we’re doing,” says LifeScape’s Lead Employment Specialist Jonathan Barrett. According to Barrett, that personal touch helps to bridge the gap, giving employers a chance to ask questions on the spot.
While some industries like food service and health care have long employed people with disabilities, others have only recently started to realize the opportunities. Barrett sees a lot of value for employers who are willing to have a little flexibility and get creative in customizing their positions.
Employment relationships can be difficult no matter what and some employers may be unsure of what to expect when hiring someone with disabilities. Here are some things to keep in mind.
Spectrum of Interests
Just like anyone else, people with disabilities have a full spectrum of interests and talents. While some people find fulfillment in customer service positions, others enjoy more independent work. “If you take the time to get to know someone and what their abilities are, I think you can push that ability further,” says Anderson. “What every employee wants is to be empowered and to feel like you’re valued and you’re contributing.”
Transportation and Scheduling
Individuals receiving social security benefits can typically work 15- 25 hours per week, but transportation can be an obstacle. While some workers can drive or walk to work on their own, many depend on public transportation. Challenges with transportation can sometimes be addressed by adjusting schedules to longer hours on fewer days or arranging rideshares for employees. Other times, it is a deal-breaker.
Abilities and Accommodations
Anderson and Barrett agree that accommodations are as unique as individuals, and the key is to make sure the employer is prepared for them ahead of time. Some employees might need something as simple as a table at wheelchair height, and the state will often provide the equipment. While most accommodations are very simple to implement, some require more creative thinking. For instance, employers might create a new job description to carve out tasks from other employees to free up their time. These arrangements can lighten the load for a full-time employee, provide meaningful work for a part-time employee, and save the business from onboarding an additional FTE.
Businesses can take advantage of situational assessments. These are like a test run for the job where the potential employee comes into the business and observes a shift. This experience allows the potential employee to gauge their comfort with the role, and the employer can assess whether the person meets the job requirements before making a hiring decision.
Even with the best of intentions, not every employment arrangement works out. But that’s not always a bad thing. “People can fail. That’s okay,” says Anderson. “There is dignity in the risk of failure.”
“By having the proper support, training and time to acclimate to all job duties, the people supported bring an amazing X-factor,” says Barrett.
Organizations like DakotAbilities and LifeScape understand that employment arrangements are not acts of charity. Employment should be mutually beneficial. While the business is helping the employee build independence, the employee is helping the business with its day-to-day needs. Working through potential accommodations or creative solutions is worth the effort to retain loyal and hard-working employees.
“By having the proper support, training and time to acclimate to all job duties, the people supported bring an amazing X-factor,” says Barrett. “With the right employer and optimal setting, it can be a fruitful relationship between both parties and has potential to become a successful long-term workforce relationship. All it takes is one opportunity or one chance by a business.”
For more information on employing adults with disabilities, contact DakotAbilities Community Day Manager Megan Anderson at (605) 444-6182 or Lifescape Employment Services at (605) 444-9974.
2021 NDEAM Virtual Workshop
America’s Recovery Powered by Inclusion
Psychiatric and mental health issues can often be “hidden disabilities” that do not receive the public awareness of visible disabilities. Join this virtual workshop to learn more about how employers can effectively engage candidates and employees with these functional limitations and benefit from quality talent.
Thursday, Oct. 7