Disability Awareness Month 2012

John Savage believes the workforce would be far more inclusive if employers understood that employees with disabilities are some of the most reliable and productive people on the job. Besides that, their presence often raises moral and creates an environment that feels all-encompassing to other employees as well as customers.

“What people think it means to be disabled…the barriers they put up are more imagined than real,” he said.

Savage, who is Director of Employment Services at Alternative Community Training (ACT), hopes this month’s theme for National Disabilities Awareness Month – A Strong Workforce is an Inclusive Workforce: What Can YOU Do? – will help shatter the preconceived notion that people with disabilities are too great a risk to hire.

People with disabilities “tend to stay with the same employer longer,” Savage said. Their “productivity is just as good or better…call in sick less…and not only do” they “create a more diverse workforce, but they create a more diverse customer base.”

This year’s campaign recognizes the contributions of disabled workers and calls for equal treatment in employment of people of all abilities, which plays into the mission of ACT. The Columbia not-for-profit agency provides an array of programs and services throughout Mid-Missouri to about 400 persons with disabilities annually, in the areas of employment, residential services, and day programs. ACT is an area leader in employment and basic job training for people with disabilities, many of whom are referred by Boone County Family Resources.

Savage is optimistic that local businesses will begin hiring more people with disabilities. He cites a report on Walgreens as being a leader of large, national firms that have started to exemplify a more diverse workforce.

“What business needs to understand is that they are not always expected to give persons with disabilities something, but persons with disabilities have something to give them,” he said. “Walgreens gets that.”

Savage hopes for a “trickle down” effect to take place from some of the larger, nationally-based businesses such as Walgreens and Lowe’s to locally owned stores in the hiring of persons with disabilities.

Mark Satterwhite, Director of the Life & Work Connections program at BCFR, shares Savage’s enthusiasm about informing employers about the capabilities workers with disabilities possess.

BCFR’s Life & Work Connection’s mission is to prepare participants for the workforce by hosting real job opportunities for young people with developmental disabilities. The custodial and landscape crews at BCFR help instill necessary job skills such as working as a team, reporting to work on time and problem solving

“Disability doesn’t mean they can’t work,” Satterwhite said. “In order for more people with disabilities to be hired, employers have to understand that people with disabilities are the most dependable and reliable workers one can have.”