Post by Dennis Felty, President of Keystone Human Services. Originally posted on www.keystonehumanservices.org.
When people meet for the first time, one of the first questions they usually ask is “What do you do?” meaning “What work do you do?” For those who don’t have the opportunity to be engaged in valued work, that can be a very difficult question to answer. Our identities and often our sense of self-worth are closely tied to the work we do, and consequently, the role of “employee” is highly valued in society.
Beyond contributing to an affirmative identity, work often offers access to friends and social opportunities. Employees have the opportunity to engage in interesting, meaningful work and change their financial status, ultimately gaining the chance to become self-reliant and live an independent life.
People with disabilities can and do make valuable contributions to the workforce, yet they are largely untapped. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 17.6 percent of people with disabilities were employed in 2013, compared with 64 percent of people without a disability. And at 13.2 percent, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities was almost double that of people without disabilities (7.1 percent).
However, businesses are slowly discovering that inclusive employment benefits everyone. Industry reports have found that workers with disabilities perform their jobs as well as or better than their non-disabled coworkers.
People with disabilities want to work. It’s Keystone Human Services’ vision that everyone can be a contributing member of society, and being employed is an important part of a person’s involvement in the community. The ultimate goal is for individuals to develop skills and transition into jobs that give them independence.
Many participants in the Adult Community Autism Program (ACAP) set goals to find meaningful, competitive employment as part of their plans. ACAP has a strong vocational program. Nearly 80% of all participants in Chester, Cumberland, Dauphin, and Lancaster Counties are working, volunteering, or enrolled in school. Some individuals who are employed are also volunteering or going to school.
People are finding a wide array of attractive employment opportunities, whether it’s with an established company or as an entrepreneur. They want to work and they take pride in the work they do. With employment, they are gaining independence and new social opportunities.
Work is a central component of the human experience. The work that each of us does has an impact on our roles within the community and our families, and it affects how people are perceived and how they feel about themselves. Work can be an important part of living a meaningful and relevant life, contributing to society and the well-being of others.