Empowering people with disabilities: helping to make lives brighter and businesses stronger

By Terri Bone, United Way Tocqueville Society member

Throughout the course of my career, I often have been the only woman in the room. Once I got to a leadership position, I made it my mission to make sure there were opportunities available for women to grow and succeed.

When I had my third child, and he was born with developmental disabilities and epilepsy, I found myself in a similar situation as he grew older and began thinking about his career goals. My son, along with many of his friends with disabilities, struggled to find a job where he fit in, could use his skills and be successful. To improve employment opportunities and outcomes for young adults with disabilities, I joined and later became co-chair for United Way’s 21 and Able initiative.

Many people with disabilities seeking employment face bias when applying for jobs. These individuals often do not interview as strongly as others and struggle to sell themselves with confidence. Through job coaching and supports provided by United Way, I hope more people with disabilities will learn their strengths and be empowered to apply for jobs they are well-suited for and in which they will thrive.

But on the flip side, it is my hope that businesses and employers will learn about the benefits to hiring employees with disabilities. There are many great ways your business can change by welcoming people with disabilities to your team. Here are just a few:

  • Diversity: When you hire more people with disabilities, you are opening your team and consumers up to a more diverse workforce. For instance, individuals with disabilities might be able to relate or better assist a customer or client who also has disabilities. They often can bring a fresh perspective and outlook to situations and processes.
  • Persistence: If there’s one thing I have learned from my son and his peers, it is that many people with disabilities are persistent. My son has a dream of being a park ranger, and despite being rejected 347 times (yes – you read that right!), he finally found a position in Montana for the summer and fall seasons that he is thriving in. He never lost focus and he never gave up. This attitude can bring a needed shift in culture to a workplace.
  • Skills: People with disabilities have their own set of skills, and when put to the test, they can really shine. Just like a typical employee, people with disabilities can bring something new and fresh to the table from their various life experiences and backgrounds.

Not only can hiring people with disabilities bring positivity to your team and company, you will play a role in empowering individuals who may have struggled throughout their life to feel successful and important. When people with disabilities find employment, it can change their lives.

  • Self-confidence: Many times, this is something people with disabilities lack. By hiring them for a job they are well-suited for, you will help them grow in the workforce and offer them the chance to be part of a team. These things provide all people with a sense of self-confidence and assurance.
  • Fulfillment: Just like every one of us, when people with disabilities have a purpose and are proud of their work, they will ultimately feel a sense of fulfillment. Having a daily routine and seeing the finished product of a hard day’s work is a great feeling for everyone.
  • Independence: Having more responsibility, learning how to operate in an employment setting, and being given the opportunity to get to and from work each day is a great part of having a job. Finding the right job for their skillset can really help people with disabilities thrive on their own and find their stride.

United Way’s 21 & Able helps people with disabilities find employment and employers understand their value. If more businesses make a dedicated effort to hire people with disabilities, workplaces will see the shift in morale and the opportunities that come from new ideas and more people in our community will feel empowered and ready to succeed.

If you have questions or would like to learn more about United Way’s work, visit https://uwswpa.org/who-you-help/people-with-disabilities/.