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Tibi Guzmán: For those with developmental disabilities, transition services key to filling the talent pipeline

Individuals with developmental disabilities play an important role in building a diverse and qualified workforce. As companies look to bring on new employees, it is important to remember that these talented individuals can succeed in a wide range of employment settings, including corporations, small businesses, manufacturing facilities and retail, to name a few.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that these individuals make up the largest minority group in America, they are often least accounted for when it comes to conversations and practices regarding equal rights and anti-discrimination. They are often left out of the DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) conversation as companies design, build and implement their programs. And they are also still twice as likely to be unemployed, compared with those without a disability.

If you are considering disability employment for your business, please know that the key to setting these employees up for success is the same as their typically developing peers: ensuring the right training and resources are in place.

Whether it’s introducing them to the technology needed to complete their job or walking them through processes and procedures, investing in the right training is key. Oftentimes this job training can be jumpstarted by participating in a transition program that helps young adults to build skills after high school to help prepare them for their new chapter in life.

Real benefits for businesses

While employing a person with disabilities has, at times, been looked at as a way for businesses to give back to the community, the reality is that hiring people with developmental disabilities has tangible benefits for businesses. It can contribute to your business goals, inspire your workforce and add to your company culture.

For example, employing this talent pool can help businesses to diversify their workforce. It can equip them with talent who excel at specific tasks. And it can introduce them to people who are invested, enthusiastic and eager to contribute to the company. Many companies have also noted that these employees are among their most reliable.

In business environments with repetitive tasks — such as administrative work, manufacturing, production and others — the consistency and attention to detail people with developmental disabilities bring is invaluable. When production targets are met and tasks are done right the first time, businesses can improve their bottom lines.

Preparation is key

At The Arc Westchester, we are proud to offer three programs that help prepare individuals with developmental disabilities, including autism, for the workforce: Project SEARCH Autism Enhancement, Transition Prep and Prep for Success. Each of these programs is designed to help young adults build skills that will set them up for success in the workplace.

Project SEARCH Autism Enhancement is a one-year internship program for individuals ages 18 to 28 who have autism and are seeking competitive employment. Transition Prep is a weeklong summer program that helps high school students with autism to start planning for their future. Prep for Success is a 30- to 90-day pilot program that helps individuals with developmental disabilities develop and enhance skills that will increase their independence.

With instances of autism in adults on the rise — roughly half a million individuals with autism will transition into adulthood between 2018 and 2028, according to Pediatrics: Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics — offering access to evidence-based transition programs is critical for helping these individuals thrive as fully contributing members of their communities.

Sadly, many people with developmental disabilities, including autism, age out of services when they turn 21. Often referred to as the “services cliff,” this loss of assistance can inhibit these young adults from sharing their talents with the community.

Transition programs play an important role in shoring up that gap and help connect individuals with meaningful employment opportunities in their local communities. Of note, the Westchester County Department of Community Mental Health reported 118 transition students for the 2019-20 academic year, a number consistent with annual estimates for the near future.

Disability employment in Westchester

More than 200 Westchester businesses have already embraced the idea of disability employment and recognize the value of hiring these talented individuals. While we are proud to be part of a community that realizes the benefits of employing individuals with developmental disabilities, there is tremendous opportunity to grow this pool of employers. Whether it is a hotel, manufacturing facility, corporate office, nonprofit or retail establishment — and that list is by no means exhaustive — there is ample opportunity for individuals with disabilities to succeed as your employees.

As your company looks to fill roles within the organization, I encourage you to consider whether an individual with a developmental disability can potentially fill that role. Businesses have continuously reported that if you want to hire dependable, diligent, enthusiastic people who are ready to join your workforce, hire a person with disabilities.

Tibi Guzmán is executive director and CEO of The Arc Westchester, the county’s largest nonprofit supporting individuals with developmental disabilities.

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