Building God’s Kingdom One Job at a Time: The Case for Hiring Adults with Disabilities

post-1-0-55919700-1384422697The following article first appeared in the October issue of Peace Signs (a Publication of Mennonite Church USA).  You can read the article online here: http://pjsnpeacesigns.wordpress.com/2014/10/30/moving-beyond-ableism-boosting-the-economy-why-hiring-adults-with-disabilities-is-a-smart-business-decision-and-builds-gods-kingdom/

This same article also appeared in Anabaptist Disability Network’s (ADNET) e-newsletter for their October edition on National Disability Awareness Month.  The link is accessible here: http://www.adnetonline.org/:/HTML/Resources/Newsletter/Connections/Connections%20201410/BuildingGodsKingdom.html

At 4pm on the 15th and 30th of every month, Darryl comes back to his group home waving his check excitedly in the air.  “Deborah, tell me how much I made this month!” he eagerly demands.  We open his mail together, I read out the number at the very bottom of the page, and give him a high-five.  The next question is a natural one, “So, Darryl, how are you going to spend your pay check this month?”  Without hesitation, Darryl answers back, “I’m saving my money for my vacation.”

Darryl is a member of one of the largest untapped work forces in our nation—the group of industrious workers made up of individuals with developmental disabilities.  As a young man in his early thirties who has Down Syndrome, Darryl is quick to tell you that he is “no longer a school boy, but a working man.”  He proudly describes himself as a businessman, and with the greatest sense of philanthropy I have ever seen, adamantly repeats his desire to raise more funds for the intentional community he is a part of.

Working 5 days a week, alternating between a packaging company and a local woodworking shop which makes splints for St. John’s Ambulance and Flare Sticks for railways, Darryl has shown me first-hand the positive effects of working a steady job. To Darryl it is not just about the money he receives at the end of the day—his capacity to understand and manage his own finances is very low—but rather it has to do with contributing to society, being part of a group, and living a more normalized life.  The average person gets up, goes to work for 8 hours a day, comes home and rests only to repeat this same cycle again the next morning.  For persons with a developmental disability who have joined this rhythm of life, their self-esteem often increases and they find they have much in common even among those who do not have a disability.

Yet, even though recent statistics have shown that close to 20% of the American population has some kind of disability, the unfortunate reality is that only a third of those individuals are currently working, which means that the other two-thirds are unemployed.[1]  Reasons for this vary.  Some employers resist hiring people with developmental disabilities because they feel these individuals will be too difficult to train or will lack the passion and the stamina to keep going.  For the most part, nothing could be further from the truth.  People with disabilities often are hard-working, committed, and dedicated to making a difference in their fields.[2]  These individuals also are less likely to complain about what may be seen as minimal tasks, instead embracing each opportunity as another job to be completed.  Additionally, it has been shown that individuals with developmental disabilities are up to 3 times more likely to stick with entry level positions compared to the high turnover rates companies often experience.[3]

As Christians, we are called to help those who otherwise would be marginalized and to seek ways to include all of God’s children.  One of the best ways for this to take place is to have Christian employers become more aware of the positive outcomes employing people with disabilities provides.  As more churches become aware of every person’s need for inclusion, self-worth and purpose, we can corporately reach out as the Body of Christ to try to place individuals with disabilities in jobs which best use their interests and skillsets.  As Christians, let us take the risk of allowing someone with a disability to be part of our workforce rather than only persons with a university degree or years of experience.  As someone who works with employed individuals with disabilities I can almost guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

[1] “Disability Employment Information, Facts, and Myths,” Disabled World, Accessed September 17, 2014, http://www.disabled-world.com/disability/employment/disability-employment-information.php

[2] “Why Hire?” Community Living Ontario, Accessed September 17, 2014. http://www.communitylivingontario.ca/employers/why-hire.

[3] Disabled World. http://www.disabled-world.com/disability/employment/disability-employment-information.php

Deborah-Ruth Ferber is a Field Associate for Anabaptist Disabilities Network.

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