Take the first three letters out of the word "disability" and what's left is something every employer looks for in a worker. The ability of disabled workers to contribute to the bottom line was the focus of Disability Mentoring Day, observed across the country on Wednesday.
According to the Disability Funders Network, one in five Americans has a disability. It's the largest minority group in the nation and has the highest rate of unemployment, the highest rate of poverty and the lowest level of education of any minority group, the organization notes on its website.
The mentoring event brings awareness to how an inclusive workforce makes good business sense. "The purpose is to try to expose businesses to people with disabilities and try to encourage them to maybe hire a person with a disability," Pamela Cramer, counselor with the Florida Department of Education's Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, said. "Someone with a disability is just as anxious and eager to work and usually is a great worker that stays there a long time... so it is definitely an untapped resource."
Sam's Club was one of more than two dozen Bay County businesses that shared their workplaces with 85 disabled students and adults.
"We make them feel like an associate," Emily Isaacs, Membership Manager, said. "We make name badges for them [and] they get to tour the club and get an opportunity to learn every position in the building."
Joseph DeReus, 17, plans to enlist in the army after graduation and become a vehicle mechanic. He spent a couple of hours at Bill Cramer Chevrolet watching a veteran technician replace an oil pan gasket on a Corvette. "It means a lot… taking their time out of their day to show us how they put together expensive, really beautiful cars," DeReus said.
The dealership has participated in the mentoring day for several years. "We feel fortunate to turn them over to one of our head technicians and show them what the repair of a vehicle actually looks like," Billie Donn, Service Director, said.
According to the Department of Education's Cramer, brief encounters can turn into something more substantial. "We hope that it could build a lasting relationship with these businesses that maybe they'll offer a student a job or at least an internship or volunteer experience," Cramer said.
Sam's Club already employs several disabled workers and, after touring the store, Shae Morrison hopes she'll be next. "I'm very kind and I'm a hard worker," she said.
Click here to learn more about Florida's leadership role in placing disabled citizens in meaningful jobs.