Saturday, September 20, 2008

Top 10 Reasons Why People with Disabilities Should Work

Poster by Michael O'Harro

Recently, I accepted an invitation to speak at a Statewide video conference entitled: The Meaning and Value of Employment of People with Disabilities in Minnesota. This video conference is being planned and sponsored by Pathways to Employment (PTE), Minnesota’s Medicaid Infrastructure Grant (MIG). The mission of PTE is to increase the competitive employment of people with disabilities and meet Minnesota's workforce needs by bringing together people with disabilities, employers, businesses, government, and providers. This upcoming conference is dedicated to a discussion on real values of employment, beyond wages, from the perspective of workers with disabilities. The target audience for the video conference is people with disabilities and family members, County staff, providers of disability-related services, and advocates from all around the State of Minnesota. Appropriately, the event will include perspectives and views of people with disabilities as well as advocates working to promote competitive employment for working age adults with disabilities.
I will share my viewpoint and conclusions with the audience based on 32 years of management experience with employment and workforce development programs. And I intend to keep the discussion light and fun so I’ve decided to use a "David Letterman Top Ten" approach as I present the main reasons why youth and adults with disabilities should choose work as their first option. Here they are–
10. Work makes you feel good.
American author and philosopher, Henry David Thoreau, said it best- "What exercise is to the body, work is to the mind." Thoreau’s observation is not only correct but supported by employment related research. In the area of mental health, for example, supported employment has been identified as an evidenced-based practice (EBP) in recovery from a serious mental illness. New research tells us that people shouldn’t wait until they recover before they go to work. Rather, the opposite is apparently true– people tend to recover BECAUSE they go to work! There is little question that having an occupation is fundamental to human wellness and for so many reasons.
9. The workforce needs you.
Numerous workforce studies forecast labor shortages in the next decade including warnings about how impending baby boomer retirements will deplete the American workforce of critical talents. Also, studies document the challenges business are having finding skilled and unskilled labor across a spectrum of economic sectors. To illustrate, a recent study by Manpower, Inc. revealed 41% of American companies surveyed were having trouble filling jobs. Clearly, changing workforce demographics and dynamic economies in America are creating new opportunities for partnerships with private businesses. Now is the time to engage the employability of all interested and available workers with a wide range of skills and abilities.
I am a member of an employment leadership team in Minnesota that recently crafted a value proposition to communicate the importance of including everyone in our local workforce. Minnesota’s value proposition says this– "We need everyone in the workforce for businesses to thrive and communities to prosper."
And including everyone means tapping every available citizen who wants to work.
8. Work is a part of your identity.
Whenever we meet new people, a ritual of getting to know one another commonly ensues. Generally speaking, people are initially interested in asking us questions about who we are and where we live. And the third most likely inquiry is this– "What do you do?"
Indeed, having an occupation is highly valued in our American culture. A job becomes a central part of the fabric of who we are and contributes to how others see and relate to us. Kate Stepkin, a U.S. baker, put it this way– "Work is an essential part of being alive. Your work is your identity. It tells you who you are."
"What do you do?" And how should chronically unemployed individuals answer this question? Further, how does their answer shape self-esteem or contribute to valued roles in their community?
7. Work gives you a chance to meet new people.
Many national studies validate that people with disabilities experience high and chronic unemployment separating them from the social and economic fabric of their communities. To illustrate, the National Organization on Disability (NOD)/ Louis Harris Poll conducted a study in 2004 and found people with disabilities were more likely to experience high unemployment (65%) and discrimination. Conversely, they were less likely to socialize, eat out, or attend religious services than their counterparts who don’t have disabilities. In addition, this study found people with disabilities were less likely to report overall satisfaction with their lives with only 34% saying they were highly satisfied verses 61% of their counterparts.
To say it simply, social similarities attract and differences repel. A working life gives people with disabilities an opportunity to meet and connect with others in their community. And this experience of friendship and collegial team work educates the public about the competence of people with disabilities to work and live in the mainstream of community life. Social integration is critical to widening opportunities, battling stereotypes, galvanizing human rights, and ensuring the American public’s support of universal design policies so no one is left behind and everyone is included.
6. Work provides life structures.
Work gives a fundamental purpose and meaning to our lives. It offers life structures and regular routines such as:
  • how we spend our time
  • what we spend our time doing
  • where we spend our time
  • who we spend our time with
  • why spend our time in the way we do.

Work offers consistency in our schedule and fills structured time with challenges, social relationships, and activities that nurture personal growth.

5. Work allows you to invest your skills and talents for pay.

Contrary to stereotypes, myths, and half-truths, people with disabilities are real economic assets. And work enables people with disabilities to invest their time, skills, and talents to the economic gain of employers and themselves. As it is for all people, the real challenge is identifying, unlocking, marketing, and employing innate talents or acquired job skills.

Like the unique color of our eyes, texture of our hair, or other physical attributes, we are all born with individual gifts and talents to contribute. Sadly, potential contributions of individuals living with significant disabilities are often overlooked, dismissed, or underestimated. Individual talents, however, can be examined through creative processes such as "discovery" or "person-centered career planning."

Discovery and career planning are designed to study and assess potential economic contributions of youth or adults with significant disabilities. These procedures are not assessment tools for screening the appropriateness or suitability of working. Rather they are strategies for identifying and determining how talents, assets, and potential contributions can be marketed to private industry. Once these possibilities are identified, they can be marketed to prospective employers through traditional job placement approaches. Or, customized employment practices can be used to build job opportunities around the unique interests and skills of individuals receiving the employment assistance.

In my view, it seems like such a waste of talent when no clear effort is made to employ the skills or innate potential that virtually everyone holds. Why not exchange these talents for real pay?

4. Work contributes to greater independence and self-support.

Unless people work or happen to be independently wealthy, most rely on someone else or the government for their keep. For chronically unemployed individuals, gaining a measure of economic power in their lives increases autonomy and choices about many personal matters. Earning a competitive wage and other employment benefits contributes to one’s self-support and provides discretionary income empowering people to set short-term and long-term goals.

3. Work contributes to higher productivity and achievement.

Competitive employment enables people to use their strengths and practice their skills. This leads to higher levels of individual competency and achievement. In addition, work enables people to pool their talents with others to achieve something greater than themselves. When people reach tangible personal goals they've set for themselves, it fuels higher self-esteem and personal competence. And when people with disabilities contribute to attainment of a company’s business accomplishments, it educates and breaks down social and economic barriers to success.

2. Poverty sucks!

I remember a politically incorrect poster many years ago by Micheal O'Harro. The poster portrayed a rich man standing in front of his Rolls Royce sipping on a cocktail. Inscribed above the photo was a sarcastic message– "Poverty Sucks!" Well, it sure does. Money may not buy happiness but it sure helps people pay the bills and live a minimum standard of life that brings comforts and pleasures.

A colleague and friend of mine, Joe Maronne, said it best– "If you think working is stressful, try a lifetime of unemployment and poverty." Right on, Joe!

1. Why work? Because you CAN!!

If you live with a disability, there is no better time in history than now to consider work. Almost anyone can work if he or she chooses to, has a good plan, finds an interested employer, and has access to essential work and community supports. Today, we have improved work incentives and public policies, amazing technologies to increase accessibility and functionality, better public and private transportation systems, and more effective employment practices to customize jobs and deliver the job supports people need to contribute in the workforce.

Is "going to work" really that easy for most people with disabilities? Of course not. If it were, there would be more people working. There are still significant barriers to employment for many Americans with disabilities because of low expectations and lack of access to responsive services many people need to meet presenting challenges or overcome individual circumstances.

If you really want to work and you’re getting the run around, I highly recommend seeking out educational and adult service providers who observe an "employment first" philosophy and believe in your abilities to work. These are the providers who are most likely to deliver on your potential. And yes, it may take some time to find the right employer or develop a job that is good match to your abilities, but it will be well worth the wait.

There is a place in the American workforce for anyone who chooses to work. We need to find it, develop it, or if necessary, create it.

For all of these reasons, I say-Choose work!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I was saddened to see that I am not your first article anymore, I was able to relate 100% to this article.

As you referred to,social settings can be arkward when somebody is unemployed. To be honest, answering the question "what do you do?," was the hardest part about being unemployed for me.

5:26 PM  
Blogger Don Lavin said...

Jeffrey, I am guessing this is you? If so, you are an outstanding example of what I am sharing in this post. And the operative word in your comments is "was." Answering questions about what you do "was" the hardest part about being unemployed for you. You now have an answer to this question and your response will communicate very important information about you, your skills, and the important contributions you are making at the University of Minnesota.

Individuals like you are blazing a trail in the use of customized employment practices and demonstrating what we can accomplish when we apply creativity and construct job tasks around the known talents of unemployed job seekers. It's a win-win proposition.

6:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonderful! I agree with you. As I've said in several other comment areas, this would solve many of our societal problems. Just image the taxes that the government could collect!

The problem is I can't find a job that I can do from home. I've been trying to find some employment, some income, an idea that can help me to survive, a place that a person could get some help. I've trolled through out the internet, this just makes me feel like a freak - no one recognizes the NEED to survive, much less the needs that you have outlined. As far as I've experienced, the government does everything they can think of to discourage working from the disabled.

I need some help. Where are the resources? Where are the people who are saying they protect your job? Where are the people who are supposed to be helping people who are in need of some work at home?(Yeah, there are tons of scams - unfortunately, no real paying jobs or businesses).

This is a sick and pitiful society, that wants to pay $75,000/yr. to pay to institutionize a person, rather than paying a couple of dollars helping that same person to be a contributing member of the workforce!

Any help or suggestions would be greatly appreciated!!!

6:22 PM  
Blogger Don Lavin said...

Dear Anonymous,

You did not provide me with enough core information to be of much assistance. I have no idea where you live or what resources might be available and accessible to you. However, you did express an interest in home-based employment in your post. I don't know if you own a computer or have computer literacy skills but I am guessing that you do since you posted a message here. I am posting an email message I received today from the federal Department of Labor about opportunities being advertised through one of their support programs called EARN.

EARN connects employers with workforce talent and disability employment resources. EARN is now seeking candidates with disabilities on behalf of employers for over 1,000 jobs nationwide and posted this new opportunity on 9-30-08:

Work from Home
Business To Business Call Associate

Description: TTS telemarketing is a company that provides quality sales prospects to business selling to other businesses. TTS specializes in representing both technical and financial products and services. Our associates converse with VP level and higher managers.

We are currently looking for energetic professional call associates to do client representation and inside sales for our business clients. Your job is to identify quality prospects for our client's sales team.

We have an innovative compensation package that allows our associates the freedom to work flexible hours without limitations as to how much they can earn. We pay for all sales calls made on our clients’ behalf as well as for each prospect developed for our clients. This is not a commission plan that is offered by many other sales organizations. It is more secure and pays for all of your efforts.

-Excellent verbal phone skills and past sales experience a plus.

-5 + years business, financial or technical experience.

-Must be comfortable talking and engaging with VP, President and CEO level managers.

-Must be responsible and able to manage their account to make sure the client is happy and well served.

-Reliable computer with broadband internet.

-Basic computer skills is a must.

-Quiet place to make phone calls.

-Must be able to devote at least 20 to 40 hours a week and average at least 5 business leads a week.

*College Education is a plus. However how candidate represents themselves on the phone as a professional is most important.

EMAIL Resumes to:

To view the full job postings and search all jobs posted with EARN, go to and enter the Job ID or Title into the Keyword Search 45140 Contact EARN at 1-866-327-6669 (v/tty) or with questions or to inquire about this or other positions.

Anonymous, if this job lead appeals to you, I would follow-up with the information I have listed above. If it does not appeal to you, you may want to consider self-employment options for yourself. With self-employment, you can work to customize a job around your specific interests and skills. There are a number of resources, including small business development centers, that may be accessible and of some assistance to you. Also, you can call your local One-Stop or Workforce Center to see if your area has customized or supported employment providers. These CE/SE providers may be of some assistance to you in unraveling barriers that are keeping you out of the workforce.

Good luck to you. And keep us posted on your job search!

8:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for responding to my email! It is rare that anyone does that.

I didn't include in my email that I have been left with acquired aphasia (this means that I'm unable to do telemarketing or sales). There are tons of those jobs advertised on the internet. Unfortunately, they will work not for me and as far as I've been able to find out, they don't even pay minimum wage. It seems that they are tied on how many people you can find to buy something. I've contacted the government again, just in case that they might have an actual job. No response yet (THIS is typical). Their website does not have ANY home jobs or businesses. The only jobs that they had in my area were heavy equipment mechanic. I don't have the money to get the training for that, even if I could do it at home. And, since I've been forced to get this disability designation, I'm not able to pass a physical.

I was at first trying to get some self employment. I've spent the time (2 yrs) and money to work with the VR. On the premise that they would pay for equipmnet for that, they told me that I needed to go to business school - I did that and paid for it. They insisted I needed training - I did that. Then they said I needed to read numerous books. I did that and paid for them. They said I needed to contact businesses and pump them about information about their business. I did that (I didn't get much information, this really irritates people). They said that I needed to take a trip to the manufacturer (for the equipment that I needed). I did that and I paid for a deposit. They insisted that I needed a mentor. I got one. Then they started dragging their feet and wouldn't answer any questions, they had several excuses of why they wouldn't show up for meetings, etc. I finally got an answer, that they wouldn't help because I didn't have a job. Then since the SBA won't loan money to someone without money, they will not help at all. Why would they even think of putting me through this time and expense, when they knew that that was why I needed help? This was the first time that they said that I HAD TO go through the SBA in order to get help from them. I wasn't planning on the SBA, because they are so expense and I knew that I couldn't afford that before. They don't have any information on their website about what could disqualify a person for help. This would be very helpful, but of course the government won't do that. I'm not in Minnesota, I'm just trying to find any suggestions that might help as my situation is getting worse by the day. The Job Service here will not even try to find a home job for anyone.

I so sorry that I didn't write that the first time. It's just that it's so long to explain the requirements and I've had even touched the number of things that I've gone through to find a job. I've posted my resume on several job websites, contacted several engineering firms, since I have extensive experience doing computer drafting and my mathematical and spatial abilities have not been compromised - no response except scams. I am ABLE to write. However, it's very slow and as you probably noticed, not terribly good. At least not enough to make a living on. I've even tried several "advice" websites and SCORE. They won't even respond. I've contacted all of the governmental agencies on the internet and the phone book. No help. (That was the DFS that suggested that if I would check myself in the nursing home, they would pay for all the drugs I wanted and some that I didn't - but no help). I do have a borrowed computer and the internet for the time being. I don't know how long that will last. The medical industry has tried to take my home (which I build with these "disabled" hands).
I did contact a lawyer who hasn't charged me yet. He said to wait. So I'm waiting, what choice do I have?

I'm not particular about what I need to do. Anything that I might be able to do in my home to get income, not involved with telemarketing or sales, I would greatly appreciate. Any resources that I could get some ideas from would be helpful. A thinking person might think that an employer would be very happy to get around the overhead expenses. Not so.

Thank you for taking the time to respond.

7:21 PM  
Blogger Don Lavin said...


Would you like to drop me a line at my email address? ( I would like to provide you with better information to help you move forward with your employment planning. It would be helpful to learn more about you and where you live so I can try to connect you with organizations and resources that may be of help. It bothers me to hear about people like yourself who want to work and are not getting any traction. I'm not sure if I can be of any help but I am willing to check into options for you. I look forward to hearing from you!

10:50 PM  

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