Developmentally Disabled Can and Want to Work

People with developmental disabilities prove their value as employees

September, 2011

You can see from his face that Miles Hashimoto loves working, whether it’s assembling mobile-phone kits or shredding documents.

Both jobs are at Goodwill Industries, and Hashimoto is no ordinary worker. Like an estimated 1.8 percent of Hawaii’s population – about 24,500 people – Hashimoto was born with a developmental disability.

At Goodwill’s secure shredding facility, he quickly and expertly removes paper from files and clips to feed into the shredder.

“There is very little wasted motion. He’s got his game down,” says his boss, Brett Schlemmer, project manager for Secure Solution Document Destruction, which is part of Goodwill Contract Services Hawaii.

Advocates for developmentally disabled people say meaningful employment is possible for them and that workplaces should reflect the diversity of our communities by hiring them. Developmental disabilities are a diverse group of severe, life-long conditions due to mental and/or physical disabilities. People with developmental disabilities face challenges in such areas as language, mobility, learning, self-help and independent living.

Hashimoto is proof that people with disabilities can be valuable workers. Schlemmer is proud of him, and also proud of the shredding facility, not yet two years old, which contracts with businesses to bring in revenue to fund Goodwill’s programs.

“It’s such a good fit. It provides simple tasking and jobs,” he says, noting the machinery is specially designed for people with disabilities, to prevent reaching in, and is equipped with special alarm systems.

Hashimoto first learned life, community and job skills at Goodwill. Then he applied and was hired as an employee, primarily to work on the phone kits. For the past 14 months, he has also worked 18 to 30 hours a week in the shredding facility.

Schlemmer says Hashimoto prefers working in the shredding facility, perhaps because, “He gets to measure his productivity relative to his peers, and he loves to shine.” Pay at the plant ranges from minimum wage to $9.50 per hour.

Employers who hire disabled workers through organizations such as Goodwill can take advantage of the supervising staff’s familiarity with developmental disabilities.

Helemano Plantation in Wahiawa offers both residential and day programs for people with disabilities, including employment in such areas as the mess hall and custodial services.

“We believe people should be given a chance to do whatever they can,” says Susanna Cheung, founder, president and CEO of ORI Inc.

Disability advocates emphasize that job opportunities exist in any company.

“Hiring people with disabilities has always made good business sense in that companies need to reflect the diversity of their customers,” says Susan Miller, project director for Hire Abilities Hawaii, and faculty at University of Hawaii Center on Disability Studies. The Hire Abilities Hawaii project, funded in 2005 by a Medicaid Infrastructure Grant, aims to increase employment possibilities for people with disabilities.

McDonald’s is one for-profit company in Hawaii that hires people with disabilities and finds them through agencies that help the disabled, says Paulette Wage, HR manager for McDonald’s Restaurants of Hawaii. She says McDonald’s doesn’t have a special hiring program but strives to be an equal opportunity employer.

Wage says many of the disabled employees have been with the company a long time. The job depends on the person’s disability. “As you may guess, a restaurant can be dangerous as we work with heat, machinery with moving parts,” Wage says. “Our goal is always to be able to provide employment that is safe and free of discrimination.”

Hire Abilities Hawaii urges companies to “Think Beyond the Label.” Its TV commercial features “George,” an employee of Maebo Noodle Factory in Hilo, who has a disability. “But you’d never know it,” the caption reads as George carefully makes and separates noodles. Company president and CEO Blaine Maebo explains that every good company is built on its employees – “people who can bring something more to the job than just showing up … that’s why we ‘Think Beyond the Label.’ ”

“All businesses are comprised of individuals with diverse skills and talents,” says Rebecca Rude Ozaki, an associate professor at UH-Manoa’s Center on Disability Studies. “Hiring individuals with disabilities is just one aspect of that diverse workforce that is needed to make communities work.”

RealChoices Hawaii says employees with disabilities can reduce labor costs because they have better retention rates. Recruiting costs can be reduced because you can recruit them through nonprofit sources.

Miles Hashimoto takes pride in his work. His paycheck is also a source of pride, because it means he can buy things. Recently, he bought a bicycle and, occasionally, he buys items from the snack wagon that stops by Goodwill every morning. That impresses his friends and colleagues.

“When you can buy things, you’ve got status,” says Schlemmer, his boss.

 

Learn More

Learn how to make accommodations for new or existing employees at www.askjan.org.

For other information about hiring people with disabilities, go to www.realchoices.org andwww.hireabilitieshawaii.org.

 

Tax Incentive

The Work Opportunity Credit gives eligible employers a federal tax credit of up to 40 percent of the first $6,000 of first-year wages of a new employee who is part of a targeted group, which includes people with disabilities. The credit would apply as long as the employee was certified as disabled by the appropriate government agencies, according to the IRS. For more information, follow this link: tinyurl.com/6mlbg9.

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Jolyn Okimoto