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Guest column: Georgians with developmental disabilities deserve jobs, too
W Kathy Keeley AADD 2013

    For individuals with developmental disabilities, the typical choices after finishing high school — getting a job or going to college — are difficult, if not impossible. There are thousands of Georgians with developmental disabilities, and the unemployment rate for that community is close to 87 percent.
    As the 2015 Georgia General Assembly continues working on the budget, All About Developmental Disabilities, or AADD, is asking legislators for an increase in appropriation of state funds of $1.96 million in the fiscal 2016 Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, or DBHDD, budget. This would fund a program covering immediate supported employment for students with developmental disabilities transitioning out of high school.
    “Supported employment” is an individualized approach to match individuals with developmental disabilities with employment opportunities in typical workplaces in the community. The goal is to have them working alongside people without disabilities earning minimum wage or above.
    In fiscal 2015, DBHDD authorized just $10.9 million for supported employment services, but the need far exceeds what that amount can provide for the community. Current waiting lists can be as long as nine years or more for services through waiver-based services.
    Currently, Georgia lags far behind the rest of the nation in helping people with disabilities find gainful employment. Developmental disabilities are defined as severe, life-long disabilities that limit critical life functions that occur before the age of 22. They include autism, Down syndrome, and cerebral palsy.
    The economic return to the state from investing in supported employment programs is $1.61 for every $1 spent on helping an individual. Beyond that, the return to the workers and their families is incalculable. It means the difference between a life of isolation at home and full participation in the world of work and the community.
    Without this program, these students would likely finish high school, only to return home and sit on the couch, waiting until they qualify for a Medicaid waiver to pay for these services.
    Through our “HireAbility” campaign, AADD is educating Georgia’s employers, dispelling their fears and preconceptions about hiring individuals with developmental disabilities. Some employers worry that employees will not be able to keep up with the pace of work or that their customers will disapprove.
    Yet in fact the opposite is true: studies have shown the benefits of hiring people with developmental disabilities. Lower turnover, lower absenteeism rates, strong job loyalty, increased employee morale and enhanced corporate image are just a few of the benefits when employers hire people with disabilities.
    Lower Turnover: Pizza Hut reported that its turnover rate for people with disabilities was 20 percent, compared to 150 percent among employees without disabilities.
    Lower Rates of Absenteeism: Workers with developmental disabilities have much lower rates of absenteeism than the average, with many achieving perfect attendance.
    Job Loyalty: Workers with developmental disabilities typically express positive attitudes toward their employers and co-workers, and much-greater-than-average longevity in jobs.
    Employee Morale: Many businesses report that hiring someone with a developmental disability increases the sense of teamwork among employees.
    Customer Satisfaction: Hiring workers with developmental disabilities enhances a company’s image. Consumers prefer to give their business to a company that hires people with developmental disabilities.
    Many Georgia employers have experienced the benefits of hard-working, reliable, committed and caring workers who can outperform their non-disabled peers. Publix, Walgreens, Home Depot, the Georgia Aquarium, PF Chang’s, Kroger and Hamilton Health Care in Dalton can testify to the strengths and abilities of these workers.
    Business owners can even realize tax advantages, including the Small Business Tax Credit, the Transportation/Architectural Tax Deduction and the Work Opportunity Tax Credit.
    It’s vital for us to work together to make sure job opportunities exist for all.  This funding will allow individuals with developmental disabilities to experience the satisfaction and economic security that only a job can provide. By focusing on their abilities, not their disabilities, we can promote workplace success and improve lives.

    Kathy Keeley is the executive director of All About Developmental Disabilities. Email her at Kathy@aadd.org, or visit www.aadd.org for more information.

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