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Welcoming Workplaces: Improving Disability Employment

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month! Lead each year by the Department of Labor, NDEAM spotlights the incredible contributions of people with disabilities in the workforce.

When their talents are recognized and their needs are supported, employees with disabilities shine. And businesses benefit!

A 2018 report from Accenture showed that businesses that prioritized disability inclusion performed better, resulting in “28 percent higher revenue, double the net income and 30 percent higher economic profit margins” over the study’s four-year period.

Yet in August 2022, the Department of Labor reported the unemployment rate for people with disabilities was more than twice as high as that for people without disabilities (7.9% vs. 3.7% among the working age population, ages 16-64).

Similarly, the labor force participation rate for people with disabilities was less than half that of people without disabilities in this age group (37.6% vs. 77.5%).

More work is needed to close the gap.

How can we help people with disabilities find employment?

Setting a Foundation with Skill Building and Career Exploration

People with disabilities deserve career counseling and life skills education that will set them up for success.

At SOAR365, we start by giving them the tools they need to succeed. Both our Children & Youth and Adult Day Support programs incorporate Employment Services training into their curriculum.

Children & Youth

Leaving school for the “real world” brings both excitement and new challenges for young people with disabilities, including finding their first job! To help, SOAR365 hosts both virtual and in-person career chats with community members and local businesses.

Our SOARing Forward Curriculum also helps participants achieve Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) skills. Career exploration, work-based learning experiences, post-high school education and training programs, social and independent living skills, and self-advocacy lessons all help prepare our participants for employment.

We’ve also created transition kits with adaptive curriculum materials focused on: life skills, social skills, literacy, money management, banking, restaurant skills, living Independently, and job readiness.

Adult Day Support

SOAR365 University provides high-quality lessons to all Adult Day Support participants. And SOAR365 University now offers an Employment Skills curriculum focused on exploring career interests and building skills for employment. Here, participants receive job readiness training, resume writing tips and more. They can learn both soft skills (including cooperation, communication, and time management) and skills that are specific to their desired job.

Finding the Right Job by Identifying Strengths and Growing Capabilities

For some people with disabilities, hands-on guidance during the job seeking, application and training process makes all the difference.

That’s why SOAR365 proudly offers a Supported Employment program, where our employment specialists (or “job coaches”) provide encouragement every step of the way.

Supported Employment

Our job coaches take the time to really get to know each participant. To find the right job for each person with a disability, it’s important to understand their interests, motivations, talents and dreams!

To find the perfect fit, job coaches arrange visits to local businesses and conduct situational assessments to practice job skills and allow participants to try out different working environments.

Job coaches also assist participants with the job application and interview process. And once participants land their job, our job coaches help them get adjusted. Working closely with employers, job coaches provide on-the-job guidance and help set up needed supports, so both participants and their workplaces can shine.

This personalized approach sets each individual up for success. As SOAR65’s Director of Employment Services, Chris Martin, notes, “We work very closely with each person and their family in learning more about the individual so that employment is seamless.”

Providing Accommodations as Needed

Workplace accommodations don’t always have to be expensive or complex.

A research brief from the University of Illinois found that small businesses are often fearful of the costs associated with accommodating employees with disabilities.

But an ongoing study from the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) reported in 2020 that most (56%) accommodations for employees with disabilities cost nothing at all to implement ($0), while the remainder had a median, one-time cost of $500.

When it comes to workplace accommodations, SOAR365’s award-winning Business Solutions division has found that creativity and kindness go a long way.

Business Solutions

Business Solutions proudly employs more than 90 people with disabilities. These employees work on commercial and government contracts in the fields of landscaping and grounds maintenance, janitorial and custodial services, assembly and logistics, and administrative services that generated more than $11 million in revenue in 2021.

“Hiring people with disabilities is in our DNA. It’s who we are, it’s what we do, it’s in our mission. We’re creating great results while helping people be the best they can be, and not overlooking people who have a lot to offer.”
Business Solutions directors, supervisors, and team leads utilize a wide variety of accommodations to help bring out the best in their employees, such as learning a bit of ASL, texting information to deaf team members, reading documents aloud, using pictorial aids, helping fill out forms, or practicing role-playing scenarios.

As Randy Britt, Director of Commercial Grounds, explains, supporting one employee often strengthens the entire team. “We have a really wonderful organization, very person-centered. By integrating disability in our employment objectives, all of our staff becomes very conscious and intentional about overcoming obstacles. Not only do they rally around supporting someone through a challenge, surprisingly, every employee becomes more open to improvement in themselves. For us, disability is the rising tide that lifts all boats.”

And now Business Solutions employees with disabilities have extra support, in the form of their very own job coach! This new position provides additional guidance, tools and support to help our employees with disabilities achieve their career goals.

Creating an Inclusive, Welcoming Environment

Listening and understanding also help create a more welcoming workplace for people with disabilities.

One way to do this is to start an Employee Resource Group for employees with disabilities, to make their concerns heard. Many organizations, like SOAR365, also form accessibility committees to identify areas of improvement across hiring, training, facility access, technology and more.

Disability is now also being recognized as a key part of employers’ Diversity, Equity and Inclusion trainings and educational seminars.

Educating SOAR365 Employees

Since SOAR365 both hires and works with people with disabilities, there is always more to learn!

Christine Holland, SOAR365’s HR Training Manager, has put together a variety of disability seminars for Business Solutions supervisors and crew members. These discussions have covered a range of practical topics, from how to respond to seizures and mental health emergencies to how individuals with autism process jokes and sarcasm.

Over the past year, the SOAR365 leadership team participated in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion training offered by the VCU School of Education in the form of four thought-provoking, two-hour sessions.

Many SOAR365 employees also participated in the VCU-led, six-week, virtual Training on Inclusion, Diversity and Equity (TIDE) project earlier this year, with a special focus on respecting the needs and viewpoints of people with disabilities.

And SOAR365 administrative employees also took part in Beyond Boundaries’ excellent Disability Etiquette training last fall.

Every effort to learn and grow is linked to SOAR365’s commitment to our mission: creating life-fulfilling opportunities for people with disabilities.

Want more ways to incorporate accessibility in your workplace this October? The Department of Labor created a list of ideas for each day of NDEAM, found here: 31 Days of NDEAM | U.S. Department of Labor (

If you’re looking to hire a new employee and make your workforce more inclusive, our Supported Employment team can help find the right fit for you. You’ll find our candidates are dedicated and driven, and our job coaches provide any needed supports to enhance their performance.

Need help with janitorial and custodial services, landscaping and grounds maintenance, assembly and logistics, or administrative services? Business Solutions would love to work with you! You can rest assured your needs will be met with superior service and efficiency, while doing a world of good.

To help SOAR365 improve employment opportunities for people with disabilities, during NDEAM or anytime, please donate here.

For more facts about NDEAM, read this backgrounder.

Want to learn more? Check out these additional resources.

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