Workers with disabilities can help your business

Hiring a diverse workforce includes hiring people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). I know that you probably have seen people with I/DD bagging groceries and cleaning, but did you know that people with developmental disabilities, like you and I, have a broad range of skills and interests?  I know folks who have been hired and become integral and reliable employees in positions such as medical records clerk, data entry, cashiers, prep cooks, care providers and supply stockers.

Most businesses have tasks that are complex yet systematic in nature. They slow your employees down, seem to pile up over time and are essential. They hold back your employees from doing the technical function of their position and tend also to be high turnover work. If you are interested in decreasing your turnover and increasing your work systems efficiencies, consider hiring someone with I/DD to focus on those complex and systematic tasks.

How does that work? Consider Jessica, a mail clerk at Columbine Health Systems who has been employed for five years. She takes the mail from the management building, and delivers and picks up mail throughout the Columbine campus. Before Jessica, each of the building administrators would walk over to the management building, touch base with employees in the management building and walk back, taking them out of their building for 30 minutes and away from their primary tasks. Jessica has sped up the mail communication and has allowed building managers to focus on providing great customer service and attend happenings within their building.

How about another example? Tom has worked at Columbine Health Systems as a medical records clerk for three years. The way Tom’s mind works enables him to be fantastic at his job. His position requires him to sort through a mass of medical papers and file them in a maze of very specific places. Accuracy is essential. Because of Tom’s “disability,” not in spite of it, he is extraordinarily detail-oriented and has made the department more efficient. When Tom began his position, he was an unpaid intern. The medical records staff quickly realized that, with the amount of work he was producing, they could not afford to let him leave. So they hired him.

I have heard many times from employers, “I have tried that before and it did not work.” In response, Yvonne Myers, health systems director at Columbine, said, “I have had some nurses that didn’t work out, I still hire nurses.”

This speaks to the individuality of people. It’s of utmost importance to make sure you have the right individual in the right position. That’s the same for all your employees, including people with ID/DD.

There are exceptions you should know about. There are additional resources offered when hiring people with I/DD. You can ask for a person to do a working interview. You can try someone out before you hire. Don’t you wish you could do that before hiring all of your employees?

Worker’s compensation is covered by a state agency. You also have access to employment consultants or job coaches, who can assist with creating any accommodations that are necessary for the employee to be successful. Employment consultants go through your training process with the employee, and as the employee is learning his or her position, the employment consultant will make sure the employee is performing the job to the expectations of the employer. As the employee becomes proficient, the coach fades away over time. If you need support when the job tasks change or new tasks need to be added, the job coach is just a phone call away.

Why is this important?  Eighty-five percent of people with I/DD are not employed – not for lack of skill, but for lack of opportunity.

Food for thought: 92 percent of consumers favor businesses that hire individuals with disabilities, according to a study done by researchers at the University of Massachusetts.

Increase your return on investment and business efficiencies. Support social sustainability. Build customer loyalty.


For more information, please contact your local Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Office.

• Fort Collins/Loveland: 970.223.9823

• Boulder: 303.444.2816

• Longmont: 303.776.6878

• Greeley: 970.353.5409

Marilee Boylan is executive director of Arc of Larimer County.