Smart Business and Meaningful Opportunities for the Developmentally Disabled

The majority of "adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities are either unemployed or underemployed," says The Arc, the largest national community-based organization advocating for and serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the percentage of working-age adults with disabilities in the workforce is about one-third of that of people with no disability.

As the founder of a small business, I looked for a dedicated workforce and a way to make a difference at the same time. Putting forth a superior product and helping others are not mutually exclusive goals. I knew we could reach our goals by partnering with a team of developmentally challenged adults for a substantial portion of our assembly and logistics processes. I believe it is time for more for-profit companies, large and small, to actively seek to employ developmentally challenged adults via contract or full-time employment.

When my business formed in 2011, my associate Dave Soulsby and I wanted to create meaningful opportunities for developmentally disabled individuals in need of vocational training and substantive work. As we developed our business and manufacturing plans, we researched nearby organizations that provided work training services to adults with developmental disabilities. Now in full production, we find tremendous satisfaction knowing that every single device and order has already significantly influenced the lives of some very unique individuals before ever reaching the end customer.

The main injection molded piece of our lockdown safety system is produced by the same company that make the most advanced football helmets and protective gear for professional, college, and high school sports. Once molded, our pieces are delivered to Hattie Larlham, a nonprofit organization that provides work training services to more than 1,500 adults with developmental disabilities. At Hatties's Assembly division, we employ 20-25 adults via a vocational training program for subassembly of the component parts, which include reflective stickers, anchor pins, lanyards, wall hooks, alignment stoppers, and end user instructions. Once assembled and packed, the team at Hattie Larlham – our team – fulfills the orders and ships the completed products directly to our customers.

How can fellow businesses incorporate developmentally challenged adults into their workforce? The most important first step is realizing the intrinsic importance of employing this faction of the workforce and the tremendous benefits your business will receive in exchange. The second step is an analysis of your product or service and processes to determine where developmentally challenged adults can best serve your company. If you own a deli or quick-serve restaurant, can you employ these professionals to service your customers? If you have a product that goes through manufacturing, can you tap into the services of this market for any part of assembly or manufacturing process?

Every business owner needs hard-working, motivated, and dedicated employees. "When you hire developmentally disabled adults, you will get individuals who are extraordinary committed to being good employees," says Peter V. Berns, CEO of The Arc. Our team members from Hattie Larlham show up on time, are passionate about their task, are detail-oriented, and take great pride in their work. The quality of our product has increased because of our team members.

Organizations such as The Arc, Hattie Larlham, Best Buddies International, and the Path Forward work with employers to assess their business needs and help get new hires oriented and trained. They help assign the right person to the right job. There are many other national and local resources to help business owners find, hire, and manage developmentally disabled adults, including the Department of Labor's Employer Assistance Resource Network, the US Business Leadership Network, and the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, which connects employers with job applicants in each state. If you need more incentive to hire these workers, there are local and national tax credits and incentives, including the Work Opportunities Tax Credit.

All people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are defined by their own strengths, abilities, and inherent value, not by their disability. As a small-business owner, my experience with workers with intellectual and developmental disabilities demonstrates their commitment to excellence and full participation and responsibilities to their job. Furthermore, it is a smart business decision.

Read the success stories from law firms, lighting companies, towing companies, and more as found on the New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities site. Join us and start sharing your success story.

Based in Hudson, Ohio, Bill Cushwa is Founder and CEO of the BEARACADE® Door Control System,, which quickly and effectively barricades any classroom or office door to prevent workplace or hostile intruder violence. The inability to effectively protect classrooms and offices in workplace violence situations yet abide by building and fire codes at all other times led Ohio natives Bill Cushwa and Dave Soulsby to take action. The men formed National School Control Systems, worked with school administrators and safety forces, and patented the BEARACADE® Door Control System as a way to protect those most vulnerable.

Posted by Bill Cushwa on Apr 21, 2015