What Will Become of Him?
This is my son! He is a typical American kid. He loves sports, climbing trees and creating rocketships and submarines using cardboard boxes, tape and whatever else he can get his hands on. He is healthy, strong, alert, very polite, has a great personality and loves to please others. His creativity is off the charts. He goes to an outstanding special day school where he is learning beyond what the experts said he would. He is curious about everything. One last thing, my boy also has a developmental disability [DD].
If he didn’t have a developmental disability his future would look bright. We’d be thinking about colleges he could attend when the time comes. He would be in competitions. He would have trophies in his room and ribbons hanging on his bedroom walls. He would have lots of friends, invitations for play-dates, sleep-overs and kids to play with at the community pool. And someday he would have a meaningful job making a livable wage.
According to a report published by the National Board of Labor Statistics released this summer, “. . . in 2015, 17.5 percent of persons with a disability were employed. In contrast, the employment-population ratio for those without a disability was 65.0 percent. The employment-population ratio for persons with a disability edged up in 2015, and the ratio for persons without a disability continued to increase. The unemployment rate for persons with a disability fell to 10.7 percent in 2015, and the rate for those without a disability declined to 5.1 percent.”
While these numbers are to a slight degree encouraging, they are not something we should be proud of. Despite the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, employment rates for people with disabilities remains far lower than for people without disabilities. So why are employers not hiring people with developmental disabilities?
According to a study funded by the United States Department of Education and conducted by researchers Mark L. Lengnick-Hall, Philip M. Gaunt and Adrienne A. R. Brooks, there are two primary approaches to improving the employment of individuals with developmental disabilities: 1] Supply-side, and 2] demand-side. Supply-side approaches focus on preparing those with DD for employment and then facilitating their placement with employers. The focus is primarily on persons with DD and secondarily on employers. On the other hand, demand-side approaches focus primarily on employers, creating a desire in them to hire from the pool of qualified individuals with disabilities. While the results benefit the developmental disabilities community, employers are the primary focus.
It seems blatantly apparent that more emphasis needs to be placed on the demand-side. The impact of the Americans with Disabilities Act is mixed. While there have been some positive outcomes, they are not comprehensive. Supply-side approaches of job preparation and job placement have met with only modest success.
Quoting from the Hall, Gaunt & Brooks report, “The low employment [or high unemployment] rates of individuals with disabilities pose a continuing problem for society, individuals with disabilities, and employers. First, individuals with disabilities require varying levels of resource support. Barriers to employment make it more difficult for those individuals with disabilities who are capable, from reducing or even eliminating that support. Second, individuals with disabilities have the same desires and needs for job and career satisfaction as their counterparts without disabilities. Barriers to employment deny them the opportunity to achieve those outcomes. Third, employers need the best talent available to survive in the ever-increasing competitive global market. Barriers to employment prevent employers from discovering and benefiting from the talented individuals who have disabilities. By first understanding the causes of the problem and then designing solutions to address the problem, we can create a win-win solution for society, individuals with disabilities, and employers.”
I could not agree more. While we are better at preparing young adults with DD for mainstream life, we are doing little, if anything to readjust public sentiment and misperceptions about those with developmental disabilities. There is little, if any mechanisms in place that allow for regular interactions between the business sector and the DD community. Corporate human resource departments are not prepared to identify skills and address special needs a candidate with DD has. Instead they move on to applicants without special needs. Society, while admittedly a bit more accepting, is uneducated and ill-prepared to interact on a regular basis with persons who display unusual behaviors and process information differently. Law enforcement does not understand the nuances that distinguish a mental breakdown from an autistic meltdown.
The longer we take to educate and acclimate society to the developmental disabilities community the more deserving people with DD will spend their days at home alone, unfulfilled, purposeless, isolated and depressed. And as they live to merely exist, society and more so, the business sector loses out on talented, dependable, loyal and hardworking employees that brighten the workplace with their optimistic demeanor.
We have two priorities that must occur in tandem: Educate/train and prepare those with DD to be productive members of society; and educate and acclimate communities and the business sector so they understand the DD community accurately and see not the disability, but the talent that lives within them.