See the person, not the disability

By Meredith Champagne, Vocational Rehabilitation Manager

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and as the vocational rehabilitation manager at Goodwill Industries of West Michigan, this is a topic that is near and dear to my heart, for both professional and personal reasons. Here we are in 2013 and there is still a stigma around hiring individuals with disabilities. Disabilities are seen and unseen, and regardless of their presentation, they should not impact how we view their ability to perform job-related tasks.

I am legally blind. I say that with pride, and I say that with trepidation, as I personally struggled to find employment after completing college. As a person with a disability, it can be difficult to convince an employer that your disability will not impact your ability to do the job. In interviewing for this position, I explained that with minimal accommodations, I could not only do the job, but was the best fit for the position.  It brings us back to the roots of Goodwill’s philosophy, “a hand-up, not a handout.”  I was allowed to demonstrate my skills, grow, and contribute to Goodwill and the community in a meaningful way.

The beauty of my current position is that I get to work with individuals with various disabilities and through pre-vocational training, watch them reach their full potential.

Employing people with disabilities is not about charity. According to the Job Accommodation Network, most employers report no or very low cost when making workplace accommodations for people with disabilities. Fifty-eight percent of employers said accommodations needed by employees  and job applicants with disabilities cost absolutely nothing. Additionally, those employers who do hire people with  disabilities report multiple benefits including improved employee retention, increased worker productivity, and ultimately cost savings.

As America continues to pull itself out of the recession, the unemployment rate among adults with disabilities remains at 14.1 percent; nearly twice as high as the unemployment rate of people without disabilities. During October, National Disability Employment Awareness Month, Goodwill Industries of West Michigan encourages employers in both the private and public sectors to strengthen their workforces by hiring qualified people with disabilities.

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