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As he walks out the door from the West Boca’s HomeGoods store on a hot September afternoon, Bryan Parent leaves his shift as a backroom recycler with a smile and a wave. From one of his favorite TV shows, he serenades coworkers and customers with his rendition of Carol Burnett’s show-closing song with the lyric, “I’m so glad we had the time together. “
it’s hard to determine when Bryan is happiest — on the way to work or coming home. You see, when you’re a person like Bryan with a developmental disability of autism spectrum disorder, the quality of life and the acceptance of peers in a work environment is a game changer. It means so much more to him than just bringing home a paycheck.
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, a national campaign that raises awareness about disability employment issues and celebrates the many and varied contributions of America’s workers with disabilities. Despite advances in education and vocational support, this awareness is important because people like Bryan, and thousands of out-of-work disabled workers, face barriers to employment every day with many not getting past the first five minutes of an interview. After eight months of rigorous family supported job hunting including company research, mock interviews and countless actual interviews, watching Bryan fail to land a job left us all feeling defeated. Bryan became reluctant to put himself out there just to be rejected within a sea of help-wanted signs. The blow to his self-esteem was crushing and he is not alone. Studies show that only 35% of working-age persons with disabilities are employed compared to an employment rate of 78% in the rest of the population.
Unfortunately, many employers have misperceptions that people with disabilities are not qualified applicants, that reasonable accommodations are too expensive or time consuming or that they can’t expect the same level of performance from employees with disabilities. These misperceptions are far from true.
In fact, hiring persons with disabilities is more than good business — it’s smart business. Studies show that people with disabilities are often reliable, loyal employees that have an overall higher job retention rate than other workers. The organization Workplace Initiative, a group of civic and governmental disabilities advocates, report that companies that hire candidates with disabilities had lower employee turnover, lower recruiting costs, increased productivity and improved customer engagement. Persons with disabilities often thrive and stay in jobs that others may deem too mundane, repetitive, or boring. But for people like Bryan, this kind of job provides desired consistency of expectations and the joy of task mastery. Studies also show that persons with disabilities are less likely to get into work-related accidents, increase diversity in the workplace and may be eligible for special tax incentives. According to an Accenture 2018 white paper, companies that hire candidates with disabilities achieved 28% higher revenue and two times higher net income. It’s a win-win story all around.
There are many resources to support both the employer/employee relationship through the process when hiring persons with developmental disabilities. Agency liaisons help businesses understand a potential employee’s strengths while developing reasonable accommodations and also support the employee to master expected work behaviors and responsibilities.
Working with referrals through the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, Bryan chose to work with ICAN (California Abilities Network) business owner Debbie Tesley because of her passion to assist clients with developmental disabilities to find meaningful employment and because of her endearing story of naming her service dog Chance to remind employers that all she wants for her clients is just that… a chance.
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Supportive hiring managers increase chances of success and one was found at HomeGoods in the form of Cathy Reeder. She granted Bryan an interview and a job opportunity within an environment of open communication, collaboration, clear work expectations and an atmosphere of peer acceptance. Bryan repeatedly comes home to rave about managers Dimitri, Alvin, Chris or Anthony and co-workers Loretta, Elizabeth, Nancy or Keith, just to name a few. Their own strong work ethic and accepting attitudes have given Bryan an incredible boost to his self-esteem while demonstrating the value of hiring individuals with disabilities.
After six months, co-workers voted for Bryan to receive the Associate of the Quarter award for his teamwork, work ethic and enthusiasm.
Ms. Reeder shared that it was an honor to present Bryan with his award and to watch his excitement at winning:
“Bryan shows up every shift with a smile on his face and an upbeat attitude that is contagious to all around him. There are still many opportunities for Bryan and I look forward to watching him grow within the company. He is a pleasure to work with and always puts a smile on my face.”
Thank you for giving persons with disabilities a chance.