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Employing the Disabled: Focus on What They Can Do, Not What They Can't

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October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. At Goodwill®, we not only train people with disabilities to find jobs and excel in their careers; we also employ many people with disabilities around the world. As an employer, we know from experience that people with disabilities are hardworking and enthusiastic employees. They want to experience the pride and independence that come from a day's work, just like everyone else.

A motivated person with a strong work ethic has the makings of a great employee. Unfortunately, people with disabilities have a more than 14-percent unemployment rate compared to the 9 percent unemployment rate of people without disabilities[1]. People with disabilities make up 22 percent of employees compared with about 70 percent of people without disabilities[2].

These statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor -- combined with the fact that nearly one in six people has a disability -- means that businesses, government agencies and nonprofits are overlooking a group of employees ready to work and help our communities prosper.

Many people with disabilities need little or no accommodation to do their jobs. Advances in technology are helping many workers increase their productivity, including those with disabilities. Employers can demonstrate social responsibility and economic commitment to their communities by hiring people with disabilities, which includes young people, older workers and veterans.

Employing people with disabilities allows them to earn paychecks and care for their families. They spend their earnings in local businesses and save for their children's education and their retirement. Their employment has a huge impact on their economic stability.

People with disabilities bring a distinct life experience that adds to diversity in the workplace. If these reasons aren't enough to cause employers to explore the possibilities, there may also be tax incentives to hiring people with disabilities, depending on where the business is operated.

Last year, Goodwill served more than 253,665 people with disabilities. Two such individuals are Patricia Heiser of Hi-Nella, NJ, and Terry Wigfall of Miami, FL.

Patricia has always had a strong work ethic and even worked two full-time jobs. One day when she woke up, she felt the room spinning and couldn't hear. She was later diagnosed with Ménière's disease, a disorder of the inner ear that affects hearing and balance. Doctors told Patricia that her case would be a chronic and lifelong disability. After years of health challenges, she received employment assistance in a temporary services program at Goodwill Industries of Southern New Jersey and Philadelphia (Maple Shade). She later found a temporary job at the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services as a data entry operator. She now works as a contract employee for the state. Patricia has a new motto for her life: "Concentrate on what you can do, not what you can't."

Terry is an employee of Goodwill Industries of South Florida in Miami. He became blind as a child after sustaining a head injury. He later went to schools for students who are blind or hearing impaired. At school, Terry started to learn about music. His work at the Miami Goodwill led to his becoming a member of the Spirit of Goodwill band -- a band with 29 members, all of whom have various disabilities and are program participants at the Goodwill Industries of South Florida in Miami. Terry plays the saxophone and serves as one of the band's lead singers. His story is one of those featured in a new documentary called "For Once in My Life", a film by Jim Bigham and Mark Moorman in collaboration with the Goodwill in Miami. I've seen it and it's truly an amazing and extraordinary demonstration of the talents and skills of people with disabilities. View the trailer on YouTube.

Patricia and Terry are just two of the many people with disabilities who come through Goodwill's doors, who are eager to work and to contribute to their communities. As an employer of people with disabilities, I encourage and urge business owners, government leaders and people in the community to focus on job candidates' abilities, not their disabilities.

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