According to an Income and Poverty analysis in the United States, working-age people with disabilities are more than twice as likely to be living in poverty as those without disabilities. The 2017 ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) Report, distributed by United Way, indicates that 44 percent of households in Florida cannot afford basic needs including housing, child-care, food, health care, and transportation. This suggests a staggering 90 percent of Floridians with disabilities experience the same hardships and persistent struggle adding in social and emotional issues.
The poverty level that people with disabilities experience is exacerbated by low participation in the workforce. In 2016, the Florida Chamber Foundation issued a report that reflected 63 percent of individuals with disabilities in Florida are absent from the workforce and are not counted in the unemployment statistics.
To counter this epidemic, our community needs to recognize the value of hiring and supporting people with disabilities as there are many employer/employee benefits. For example, through the drugstore chain Walgreens’ disability-hiring initiative, it was found that people with disabilities perform as well or better than employees without disabilities. Additionally, these employees have fewer accidents, reduced workers-compensation costs, better employee retention, and less absenteeism. As a result, this initiative has positively influenced workforce and employee morale.
Using the principle of “not lowering the bar but opening the door wider,” as an example of corporate America stepping up, a reported 10 percent of the Walgreens distribution centers’ include people with disabilities. They earn the same pay, perform the same jobs and work side-by-side with team members in a completely inclusive environment.
Disability inclusion initiatives like these have also been incorporated at other local and national companies such as Publix, Planet Fitness, JEG & Sons, Lowe’s, OfficeMax, P&G, and UPS. Businesses large and small are adopting new attitudes, opening their thinking, changing their culture, and not just considering but hiring valuable sources of talent.
For over 40 years, Arc Broward has supported people with disabilities to achieve their dreams of having meaningful careers and being financially stable through its employment based program, Arc Works. Arc Works provides people with disabilities who are unemployed, underemployed or out of the workforce entirely with the confidence and ability they need to earn a living wage and establish careers. Arc Works offers a variety of bundled services from employment support systems to job placement, financial literacy coaching, and high demand post-secondary programs.
Arc Broward urges our community to recognize that change is needed in workforce perspectives. The most important contributor to this is expecting that those with disabilities will be part of a working society. Not-for-profit organizations, businesses and higher education needs to be aligned with the expectation of employment as the norm for people with disabilities.
In February 2017, Arc Works expanded into Fort Lauderdale’s Flagler Arts neighborhood with WorkBar, a 2,600 square-foot space that hosts classes and seminars to keep members connected professionally and socially. The space serves as a resource for workplace diversification and for businesses to leverage the skills of those with disabilities to ensure a smooth transition of members into the local workforce.
Local businesses must help us change perspectives by hiring and making a difference in the lives of these individuals. Let’s follow the corporations doing it well nationally and locally. Companies here in Broward can join Arc Broward and its Arc Works programs to be catalysts for change.
Dennis Haas is the president/CEO and Julie Price is the vice president/Programs and Social Enterprises of Arc Broward. Both are longstanding advocates for children and adults with disabilities.
To view the Op Ed on the Sun Sentinel website, click here.