RespectAbility, a national organization established to advance opportunities for people with disabilities, is celebrating success in workplace advances this Labor Day. Nearly 350,000 people with disabilities found employment in 2016, compared with just more than 87,000 the previous year.
In a strong labor market, employers must look beyond the usual talent. But Kevin Morse, disability employment services coordinator for Greater Fort Wayne Inc., makes a strong case for taking an early look at people with disabilities.
“They are very loyal. Their attendance is fantastic. They come to work with a smile on their face,” he said. “They come to work in the worst of conditions – they will find a way to get to work when an able-bodied person will look outside and see a snowstorm and say, 'Nah, I'm not going today.' ”
Morse recalled a wintry day when just six employees showed up to work at the Kendallville store he once managed – two managers, two pharmacy employees and two employees with disabilities.
Morse's newly established position grew from Greater Fort Wayne, Old National Bank, Sweetwater and others collaborating with Goodwill Industries and Easter Seals ARC to reach an untapped source of potential employees. A grant from AWS Foundation supports his position, established to encourage and assist businesses in hiring people with disabilities.
“I spent 14 years with Walmart stores,” he said. “I was involved daily with the hiring and retention of associates. We struggled terribly trying to get good people. ... I learned when you hire people with disabilities – where the skills line up with the job that needs to get done – wonderful things happen.”
Morse said one part of his job is to educate employers.
“I have a lot of contacts; a lot of resources I can refer (employers) to – links to the (Americans with Disabilities Act) for job accommodations; contacts with retired professors who have worked with people with disabilities. I can ask them any question and they will find answers for me, and we'll pass them on to the people who need them.”
Morse said he ultimately is a matchmaker – matching an employer with a qualified employee.
“I'll get a business, and they need this position filled,” he explained. “I help them pair up with someone with a disability who has matching skills, whether it's from a personal list of people who have contacted me directly or whether it's from one of the agencies – Goodwill or Easters Seals or Benchmark.”
A new initiative in his position has Morse working with company presidents, CEOs and other high-level executives.
“I help them understand some of the advantages of not only hiring that particular person with a disability, but the other business advantages – tax incentives that might be available to them.”
Morse's position was established just four months ago, but he's already seen success in placing employees.
“The second day I was on my job, my phone started ringing,” he said. “People had already heard about the upcoming press conference announcing the initiative. I had parents contacting me. I had individuals contacting me. I had businesses contacting me. I knew there was a need, but I didn't realize how big the need was.”
AWS Foundation's three-year, $245,000 grant to support the Employing People with Disabilities Initiative clearly is filling a void. With Greater Fort Wayne's involvement, the collaboration is bringing employers and people with disabilities together so everyone benefits. That includes all of Fort Wayne and Allen County, as more people join the workforce.
“When a business employs people with disabilities, it tends to bring up the morale of the existing staff,” Morse said. “You see customers recognize when a business utilizes people with disabilities. A University of Massachusetts study showed a rate of 92 percent favorable feelings toward businesses hiring people with disabilities.”
On a day set aside to honor the contributions of working men and women, take a moment to consider how everyone wins when workplaces are more inclusive.