When a community or workplace intentionally includes people with developmental disabilities, those companies and communities perform better. Despite this, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities continue to experience higher rates of unemployment, homelessness, and food and housing insecurity than non-disabled persons. In the midst of COVID, these realities have been amplified.
As our region makes plans for post-COVID recovery, it is vital that our civic and business leaders ensure individuals with disabilities are a part of those plans, particularly around job placement and access to technology. Support in these two areas has the biggest potential for a positive domino effect that can also help reduce poverty, food and housing insecurity.
March has been designated Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, and this year, maybe more than any other year, taking time to understand how individuals with disabilities can be integrated into the workforce and supported within the community is vitally important.
At Vocational Guidance Services (VGS), for the past 131 years, we have provided personalized job training and employment services to individuals with disabilities and have seen how the opportunity to work, something most of us take for granted, gives participants a sense of accomplishment and connection to their community that they previously did not have.
We can all remember the challenges we faced in getting our first job and the pride we had when we received our first paycheck. For those with disabilities or other barriers to employment, the challenge of getting a foot in the door with a great company to start a rewarding career can be that much greater.
One of the potential benefits of the pandemic is that many business leaders have had to rethink how they produce their goods and services, as their traditional methods were no longer possible while stay-at-home orders were in place. This openness to new ways of completing work we hope remains and provides the opportunity for individuals with disabilities to be considered for open positions that they may once have been overlooked for pre-COVID.
For VGS participants looking for a job, it is not that they cannot work. It is often that companies overlook them because of the time and money they perceive will be needed to train and accommodate that individual. Partnering with an organization like VGS can remove those barriers, allowing business leaders to focus on other aspects of their company. For VGS and organizations like us to facilitate these opportunities, it is critical that providers have the resources and partnerships to continue providing comprehensive, supportive services.
The other area vital to not only successful employment partnerships but also meaningful community involvement is access to technology. Our civic leaders need to ensure that the digital divide is eliminated so that all can utilize the increasingly necessary technology to complete everyday activities like remote work, shopping, education, health care and banking. People with disabilities need these services more than ever before. Websites, mobile apps, video/audio conferencing, electronic documents, emails and social media posts need to be accessible to everyone.
With continued open-mindedness toward ways to work and community focus on the need for access to technology, together the business community, civic leaders and organizations like VGS can be a catalyst for positive change for individuals with disabilities in Northeast Ohio.
Barragate is president and CEO of Vocational Guidance Services.