Inclusion of people with disabilities in the workforce | Guest Column

"#InclusionWorks" is proliferating on social media and at events throughout King County and nationwide.

  • Friday, October 21, 2016 5:00pm
  • Opinion

Chris Brandt/contributed photo

“#InclusionWorks” is proliferating on social media and at events throughout King County and nationwide.

I hope it sparks broad discussion and greater understanding of what inclusion and work mean.

What makes inclusion of people with disabilities in the workforce work? A stunning revelation? New rules? Are businesses being “charitable” because the economy has improved?

Yes, the new revelation is a fundamental change in our paradigm. Assistive technology, training that begins in school, universal design and customized employment techniques make it possible for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to perform meaningful work and contribute to a business’s bottom-line.

Yes, there are new rules. Two of the more important laws enacted during the last few decades are the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. Activists, and people with disabilities and their families are leading the civil rights movement for equality in employment and inclusion for all people. They are the primary drivers of the innovations that empower everyone to get a job.

No, these are not “charity jobs.” Businesses are not employing people with disabilities because they are altruistic. Well, it is the right thing to do, just not from a charitable or patronizing viewpoint.

An inclusive employer gets excellent return on investment on several levels: their work is done accurately and efficiently, customers want to do business with a company that is inclusive, employees are proud to work for a company that embraces all diversity, and there is the immeasurable benefit of reciprocal relationships between people who work side-by-side and who respect and honor the other’s talent and contributions.

“Over the years we have worked alongside Margaret, Charlie and Jordan as important members of our team. Their commitment and dedication to drugstore.com and beauty.com cannot be adequately measured in words. They performed quality work that we really needed done. We highly recommend hiring employees with disabilities because inclusive workplaces are better workplaces for everyone,” said Suzy Lang and Vanessa Kuykendall, Beauty.com/Drugstore.com.

“InclusionWorks” is the theme for this year’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month, an annual campaign in October to educate people about disability employment and celebrate the contributions of workers with disabilities.

AtWork!, a national leader in the civil rights movement for people with disabilities, supports competent, reliable, hard workers at more than 250 businesses in Bellevue, Issaquah and throughout King County. Businesses large and small like Costco, Dunn Lumber, Davis Wright Tremaine, Cactus Restaurants, CBRE, Seattle Goodwill, Pump It Up, Seattle Boat Company and Walgreens, to name a few.

We celebrated National Disability Employment Awareness Month on Oct. 11 at Crossroads Park in Bellevue. In addition to highlighting our innovative School-to-Work program, we heard from Ivanova Smith, an autistic activist advocate and dynamic speaker on equality and justice.

“My greatest dream is to march on Washington, D.C., like Martin Luther King Jr., with other people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and close all institutions and abolish every law and system that limits our equality and the right to live our lives. I think people with I/DD are amazing and have talents that are ignored. And I want people to see them, to see us for who we really are, and allow us to use them to enhance our lives and yours. Employment should be about helping people find and use their talents, to earn a livable wage, and use their gifts and talents to live the way they want to live.”

Chris Brandt is the CEO of Bellevue-based AtWork! Over the last decade she has lead AtWork!’s bold evolution from segregated service provider to nationally-recognized leader in the supported employment movement. Contact her at Chrisb@atworkwa.org.