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Infobility: Employers should consider benefits of hiring people with disabilities

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What if an employee with a disability doesn't fit in with coworkers?

What kind of training will she need?

Who pays for accommodations?

Is it even worth it?

Most employers know they cannot discriminate against people with physical or intellectual disabilities, but they still think about these questions, said Sue Shaffer, founder of an initiative she has dubbed Infobility.

Through the initative, Shaffer has spent about 30 years informing employers about the importance - and benefits - of attracting and accommodating people with disabilities.

"You can't legislate attitudes," she said.

Shaffer, who uses a wheelchair, offers lessons, group discussions, film-screenings and other tools for employers and other community members in central Pennsylvania to raise awareness about issues they might not consider.

One such event took place in Lancaster on Friday, when about a dozen people gathered at a pizza shop where Shaffer showed a video, "The 10 Commandments of Communicating with Persons with Disabilities." Attendees, who ranged from vocational service workers to members of community development groups, discussed ways employers could better serve employees with disabilities.

Many people, Shaffer said, think only about the potential pitfalls of hiring someone with physical or mental challenges - discrimination issues, the need to make accommodations and other uncomfortable topics.

They might not realize the potential benefits, like the ability to take advantage of an often untapped labor pool or attract customers who appreciate the company's commitment to inclusion, she said.

Event attendee Pam Wise agreed, saying she has noticed that some of the most grateful and enthusiastic employees she meets are the ones who happen to have disabilities. A team leader at Lighthouse Vocational Services in eastern Lancaster County, Wise helps place people with intellectual disabilities in jobs where they can feel fulfilled and provide a service to their employer.

"They want to work; they want to be part of the community," she said.

Shaffer hopes to continue spreading her message about the importance of inclusion. Employers, she believes, can do small but meaningful things to bring people with disabilities into their workforce, like finding tasks to match a person's talents or installing handicap-accessible accommodations.

She also hopes to destigmatize conversations about disability in the workplace. 

"It's not a glamorous topic, but it's a really important topic," she said.

To work with Infobility:

Shaffer is looking to partner with area employers to provide training and identify opportunities for people with disabilities. She can be reached by email at 13suewheels@gmail.com.

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Jennifer Wentz

Jennifer Wentz

Jennifer Wentz covers Lancaster County, York County, financial services, taxation and legal services. Have a tip or question for her? Email her at jwentz@cpbj.com. Follow her on Twitter, @jenni_wentz.

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