Americans with intellectual and developmental disabilities experience very high rates of unemployment. Peter Berns of The Arc
discusses efforts toward inclusive workplaces, enhancing the diversity, productivity and quality of the overall workforce. This discussion continues in part 2 of Intellectual Disability Employment.
Interview recorded Sept 27, 2017.
Traynham: Americans with intellectual and developmental disabilities face unemployment rates as high as 80%, and that's according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Robert Traynham. Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc, joins me to discuss how his organization is raising awareness of this and taking action. Hello, Peter, and welcome to the program.
Berns: It's very nice to be with you again, Robert.
Traynham: 80% is a number that, for me, feels so uncomfortably high. Why is 80%, that number, so high?
Berns: Well, you know, it's really a huge problem for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and so many of them can work and want to be working, but they are just not given the opportunity. And, in part, I think that's because a lot of people have low expectations and don't really understand the contribution that they can make in the workplace.
Traynham: Is it as simple as raising the awareness with HR and hiring folks? Is it, quite frankly, maybe erasing some stigma? What is it? How do we bridge this divide here?
Berns: Well, the real problem's with stigma. You know, I think with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, conditions like Down syndrome or autism, folks don't know them. They have low expectations of them. They tend to see the disability and think about the disability, rather than their abilities. And so, that's one of the things that we as an organization are working very hard to do, is to help sensitize employers to understand what people with disabilities can do and how great they can be as employees.
Traynham: Peter, I think some HR individuals, or folks that are in a hiring capacity, they may say, "I'm not aware of any individuals that, perhaps, may apply for an opening. Where do I proactively go and seek these individuals?" In other words, "How do I become a little bit more proactive and lean in to help lower this 80%?"
Berns: Well, a great place, frankly, is to start with our organization, The Arc. We're a nationwide charity federation. We have 655 chapters in 47 states and the District of Columbia, and one of the things that our chapters do is help do match-making and help employers find individuals with disabilities to work in jobs that they're having trouble filling.
Traynham: You touched upon this a few months ago, and I think it's important to go back on, and that is the ability, and frankly the hungriness, if you will, of individuals that want to work. They're able to work and they want to work, so how do you bridge that gap with the individuals that actually want to work? Do you help them with resume writing skills, interviewing skills, and perhaps maybe a job bank, or all of the above?
Berns: Well, really, all of the above. Our chapters all around the country are helping individuals with disabilities to prepare for jobs. They help them with their resumes and help them learn about what's really involved in being in a workplace, and they help employers learn how to go about recruiting and hiring and onboarding and retaining individuals with disabilities in the workforce.
Traynham: Part 2 of our conversation is up next, in which Peter outlines the return for companies that invested employees with non-apparent disabilities, including those on the autism spectrum. Click the link below to join us.