Take a drive through any Maine town and the “now hiring” signs are everywhere. I’ve overheard, “People don’t want to work” more times than I care to count, and I think about the many Mainers I’ve met who would love a chance to work.

Only about one in three Mainers with a disability has a job, and the unemployment rate for working-age adults with disabilities in Maine is twice that of the general population. Natee K Jindakum/Shutterstock.com

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. It’s a time to highlight that Mainers who have a disability are largely overlooked in the hiring process. Only about one in three Mainers with a disability has a job. The unemployment rate for working-age adults with disabilities in Maine is twice that of the general population. It should not be this way.

At Goodwill, we help adults with disabilities with several services – staffed homes, community support programs, brain injury centers, case management – as well as workforce services, such as being one of Maine’s vocational rehabilitation providers. It’s through providing these services that I meet people every day who would love the opportunity to work, yet often don’t get the chance. Work brings not only a paycheck but also dignity, purpose and a sense of identity. One of the first questions we ask when we meet someone is, “What do you do for work?”

Inclusion will strengthen Maine’s workforce, but this means businesses must be adaptable. Often, businesses assume that hiring someone with a disability will require more time and money and maybe liability. What they don’t consider is these employees oftentimes come with supports, like on-the-job training or job coaching. Even more often, people with disabilities don’t even require additional supports.

For the many small businesses where we’ve helped place clients into jobs – and often support them in their jobs – the business owners tend to tell us similar stories. Their new employees are dependable, happy to work and coachable, and they stay on staff for a long time. Of course, every person is different, but when someone with a disability who has been turned away from many jobs is finally given a chance to work, they tend to stay and thrive.

I think of Debra as a perfect example. She’s a person we supported when she decided to go back to work after 17 years of being home with her children. In that time, she slowly went blind and wasn’t sure how to approach work. When our career adviser helped her with job interviews, some employers dismissed her outright upon seeing her cane. “Honestly, they turn us away because they don’t know what we’re capable of. They see that I’m blind and they think that I can’t do things,” Debra said.

She now works in a laundry facility for a hotel in Wiscasset, and her employers rave about her. She’s always on time and friendly and does her work. Isn’t that all any employer wants? But so many won’t take the chance on a person with a disability. In Debra’s case, she had support from a career adviser and her vocational rehabilitation job coach, who helped her set up braille so she can put towels in the right spot, and buttons to help her pour the right amount of laundry detergent. Now Debra can do everything herself, and these job supports are free to her and to her employer.

Goodwill is here to help any business that needs qualified employees. We will learn your business and find good job candidates, and we will stay with them, if necessary, until everyone is comfortable and the work is getting done. If we’re not the right partner for your business, we’ll help you find someone who is. What’s important is that every Mainer who wants to work has the chance to work.

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