When we talk about a community where everyone belongs, one issue that needs to be addressed is people with disabilities in the work place. People with disabilities have many gifts to contribute to the economics of our community. It is up to all of us to go beyond imagining a community where everyone is actively contributing to actually creating pathways for people with disabilities to have sustained employment. Beth Mount, Founder of Graphic Futures and Capacity Works, describes a world that works for everyone. She talks about starting with individuals. When we take time to discover a person’s gifts and uncover places in the community where those gifts are needed, there will be a place that works. There are places that people can be employed, we just need to take the time to find them.
Some may think that this process of discovery is too costly in terms of time and money. However, as we explore new possibilities for people with disabilities let us consider these assumptions:
• every person has gifts • every person can use those gifts to contribute to the community • every work place has a need for these gifts • every employer and co-worker has the ability to learn how to help co-workers with disabilities share the gifts
Here is an example of how this approach can create opportunities for people to be paid for their gifts. There is a young man with Autism who works just a couple of hours at the end of the day at a bank. His gifts are an unbelievable memory and math. His job is to close out the books at the end of the day. He does this job with more precision and speed that anyone else at the bank. What a valuable contribution to the bank and ultimately their customers.
Here in Kalamazoo let’s go beyond imagining how people with disabilities can contribute through sustained employment to actually creating ways to use their gifts. Can we afford not to?