Trenton, New Jersey, Oct. 28 – “People with all ranges of disabilities can achieve employment, providing a sense of purpose, dignity, accomplishment and earned income,” said New Jersey Gov. Philip Murphy in a proclamation marking October as Disability Employment Awareness Month.
A trio of culinary delicacies show that New Jersians with disabilities can be successful employees. No Limits Cafe is a successful coffee and pastry shop in Red Bank that prides itself on being intentional with training and ultimately employing people with intellectual disabilities. Popcorn for the People in East Brunswick employs adults with Autism, combating the current 80 percent unemployment rate in the autistic community with the training and hiring of adults with Autism to create, package and sell uniquely flavored gourmet popcorn. Grateful Bites is a bakery, café and restaurant in Flemington is a creation of Ability2Work, which provides a fully inclusive and supported business environment for people with disabilities to find meaningful lives and jobs they love. All three of these companies excel because of the inclusion of employees with disabilities.
In 2018, 161,729 working-age individuals in New Jersey had jobs, putting that state’s disability employment rate at 37.7 percent. According to the Institute on Disability, that is on par with the national disability employment rate of only 37 percent. That total includes individuals who are blind or deaf or have other visible conditions such as spinal cord injuries, as well as people with invisible disabilities including learning disabilities, mental health or Autism.
An annual celebration, National Disability Employment Awareness Month is dedicated to raising awareness about disability employment issues and celebrating the incredible contributions of people with disabilities. According to RespectAbility, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that works to fight stigmas and advance opportunities so that people with disabilities can participate fully in society, found that New Jersey ranks 28th in the nation on jobs for people with disabilities.
New Jersey has created more equitable employment opportunities for people with disabilities, with more than 2,000 jobs gained since last year. Rise in employment is no accident. These are the results of deliberate strategies implemented by leaders in the community, in government and in the school system. One such strategy is Employment First. Adopted in 2012 in New Jersey, Employment First established critical social programs oriented toward ensuring that getting a job is the top priority for individuals with disabilities. That goal is reinforced with high expectations among the teachers, coaches and parents.
New Jersey can further capitalize on past successes by following the example of states that show constant improvement such as Florida and Ohio. Both can attribute a portion of their growth in disability employment to Project SEARCH, a program for young adults with disabilities to improve their skills, learn from job coaches and ultimately find a job. Data shows that 70 percent of SEARCH interns who complete their training obtain competitive employment. By expanding such critical programs, New Jersey can increase the number of people with disabilities entering the workforce.
Companies that embrace employees with disabilities clearly see the results in their bottom line. According to Accenture, disability-inclusive companies have higher productivity levels and lower staff turnover rates, are twice as likely to outperform their peers in shareholder returns and create larger returns on investment.
The fact is that disability is part of the human experience. It is nothing to fear because all of us will be affected by it eventually, whether by accident, aging or illness. Opening more job opportunities to people with disabilities will mean stronger communities and a better economy for all. Achieving that requires all of us working together because people with disabilities are the right talent, right now.