In tight job market, workers with disabilities finding job success

Gabriel Taylor, packages sandwiches at Sheehan Brothers Vending in Springfield Monday, Nov. 15, 2021. BILL LACKEY/STAFF
Caption
Gabriel Taylor, packages sandwiches at Sheehan Brothers Vending in Springfield Monday, Nov. 15, 2021. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Dennis Grant, CEO with United Rehabilitation Services, said he has recently seen more people with disabilities that his organization works with having success finding a job.

In part, he said this is due to employers changing their perspectives as they think through how to fill jobs. And he hopes this becomes a long-term change in workplace culture even when the labor market changes.

“I do think employers are recognizing that people with disabilities are part of the fabric of our community,” Grant said.

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Workers with disabilities, especially workers with developmental disabilities, have for years had much higher unemployment rates and lower wages than workers who don’t report having a disability. In part, this is because the population of disabled people is older than the U.S. population as a whole, but across age groups people with a disability were more likely to be out of the labor force than those with no disability.

For October, the labor force participation rate was 36.8% for people 16 to 64 years old with a disability, compared to 76.6% for people with no reported disability.

Grant said for URS from 2019 to 2020, they went from 45 to 55 clients getting jobs to 65 to 70 getting jobs and staying employed for at least 90 days.

He also noted that statewide, the starting wages that individuals with disabilities were obtaining was about $11.46 an hour in 2019 and now is $12.80 in 2021.

One of the local employers who has been hiring people with disabilities and working with URS long before the pandemic includes Sheehan Brothers Vending, based in Springfield, which does vending, office coffee, and catering services.

“A lot of employers will look at this as a BandAid and not a permanent workforce. But I think that does need to change, because these individuals can be long-term employees. They are important members of our team,” said Lindsay McKenna, Sheehan human resources manager

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Gabriel Taylor, who got his job at Sheehan through URS, said he had participated in a program called Project SEARCH, which works with URS and with people with developmental disabilities.

“I loved Project SEARCH,” he said.

Taylor, who is 20, said he remembers wanting to work at Sheehan when he around 14 years old because a friend from school had an uncle working at Sheehan. Taylor is now working in pre-packing, and said he wants to be promoted and also wants more jobs in the future, such as making music.

“I want to have so many more jobs in my future,” he said.

A spokeswoman with Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities said in September it helped 593 Ohioans reach their goal of employment.

This was slightly less than in the pre-pandemic month of September 2019, when they helped 608 Ohioans and more than they supported in September 2020, which was 449 Ohioans. But, in August, OOD helped more Ohioans (531) reach their goal of employment compared to the pre-pandemic month of August 2019 (472).

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