Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month brings attention to many matters impacting individuals with developmental disabilities each March. One of the ongoing challenges for these individuals is employment – often facing unemployment or underemployment despite their ability, desire, or willingness to work in the community.
In light of this, The Arc Southern Maryland was delighted at the opportunity to host a roundtable, giving local employers – DirectMail.com, End Hunger, and World Gym, and The Arc themselves – the opportunity to speak about the benefits and challenges of employing people with I/DD. Their feedback would be heard by roundtable attendees, including Carol Beatty, Secretary of the Maryland Department of Disabilities; Terry Long, CEO of The Arc Southern Maryland; and representatives from state agency partners, Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation (DLLR); and the Maryland State Department of Education Division of Rehabilitation Services (DORS).
Secretary Beatty began the discussion by emphasizing the importance of ensuring that “individuals with disabilities have opportunities alongside other citizens in Maryland for great careers and great jobs.” She thanked the employers for attending and for taking part in a discussion about what makes them exemplary employers, what works for them, what challenges they face, and for providing feedback on ways the Department of Disabilities and state agency partners could become a resource and partner to the employers.
Feedback from the employers was overwhelmingly positive. “We find it very, very rewarding,” Bob Salta, co-founder of DirectMail.com, said of employing those with I/DD. “I’ve been employing individuals with disabilities since the early seventies,” said Salta, “I just have a passion.” Salta went on to explain that there was a time when there was no support for individuals with I/DD seeking employment within the community. At the time, training these individuals, while managing some of their unique needs, could be a challenge. He was grateful that progress had since been made by agencies, such as The Arc, in providing staff that support individuals with I/DD to gain and maintain employment, often assisting them directly on the job site. “I would say they’re incredibly dependable,” said Salta of individuals he has employed, “it’s been a tremendous benefit to my company.” All the employers at the table expressed a desire to expand their workforce to include more individuals with differing abilities. Over 200 people with I/DD receive day and vocational services at The Arc and strong partnerships with local employers, like DirectMail.com, have enabled The Arc to place 32% of these individuals in some type of competitive employment, exceeding the state’s rate of 20%.
During the meeting, Secretary Beatty presented The Arc Southern Maryland with a proclamation, signed by Governor Hogan, recognizing Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. “This is a time for us to recognize that Maryland citizens and citizens across the country with developmental disabilities can live, work, and thrive in the community,” said Secretary Beatty. “This brings attention to their accomplishments, as well as to the ways that all of us can help to create a better state for people with developmental disabilities, and this organization is doing a tremendous job here in this part of the state,” she said, praising the work of The Arc Southern Maryland. Terry Long, CEO of The Arc Southern Maryland accepted the proclamation. “We are incredibly proud of the strides we, and the employers we work with in Southern Maryland, have been able to make to employ individuals with I/DD in our community. We hope these successes will enable more employers to recognize the strengths and benefits that individuals with diverse abilities can bring to the table in each and every workplace,” said Long.
For more information about employment for people with I/DD or to become a trusted partner and employer, contact The Arc Southern Maryland at (410) 535-2413 or online.