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Employing people with disabilities: Much done, more to doBusiness leaders cite successes, but employment continues to lag

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Julia Dugan, shown here, works for Perform Group LLC of York County. The workplace environment for people with intellectual disabilities has improved in recent generations, officials said, but more steps forward are needed.
Julia Dugan, shown here, works for Perform Group LLC of York County. The workplace environment for people with intellectual disabilities has improved in recent generations, officials said, but more steps forward are needed. - (Photo / )

Julia Dugan handles a variety of valuable tasks at Perform Group LLC, where she has worked several months a year since 2015.

During the apparel-maker’s busy summer and fall production season, she helps cut material down to size and sorts inventory, and also makes it clear every day she’s at work that she loves her job, said Larry Scoggin, director of supply-chain operations for Perform Group.

“She loves it here, and one reason for that is that our people like working with her,” Scoggin said. “And she helps me to reallocate our resources, and frees up other people to do other tasks.”

Dugan was the first person Perform Group has hired through Penn-Mar Human Services, a regional nonprofit that serves individuals with intellectual disabilities in various ways, including coordinating opportunities for employment. Perform Group has an office in York and a manufacturing facility in East Prospect. The company makes performance apparel, primarily for dance and gymnastics.

Scoggin emphasized that Dugan was hired because she was and remains a good fit for the position: “I didn’t just want to give somone a job to give them a job, I wanted someone who was adding value to our company.”

Led by examples like Dugan, the workplace is increasingly open to people with various disabilities, according to business leaders who spoke at a recent forum on the issue. But, they emphasize, there’s more to do.

According to a June report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment rate for disabled individuals increased 0.4 percent from 2015 to 2016, from 17.5 to 17.9 percent, meaning that less than one fifth of people with disabilities have jobs

While the share went up, the figure remains about one-fourth of the employment ratio for those without a disability, which was 65.3 percent, the study found. And 34 percent of workers with a disability were employed part-time, compared with 18 percent for those with no disability, it said.

Because they are less likely to work, households headed by people with disabilities are more likely to be poor, advocates say.

Many companies can do more to hire disabled workers, the National Disability Authority said: “Only a small minority of employers have employees with a disability, relatively few have made changes to the job or workplace to facilitate disabled workers, and half of employers are unaware of the grants and supports available to employ disabled workers,” it said.

Still, progress has been made, people with disabilities have gone from being largely excluded from society and the workplace to working in “sheltered workshops,” where they often earn less than minimum wage, to increasing acceptance in mainstream workplaces.

The goal today is inclusion, or a job for everyone who wants one, in a community setting and with a competitive wage, Penn-Mar officials said at the recent forum, held at York’s PeoplesBank Park in conjunction with the York County Economic Alliance.

Nearly 50 business leaders attended the late-June business forum, a first-time event called “From Exclusion to Inclusion: What the ‘inclusion revolution’ means for adults with disabilities and the powerful role business leaders play.”

Gregory Miller, Penn-Mar’s CEO and president, often tells companies that hiring people with disabilities can be a good business move.

“You have people (without disabilities) doing some of these tasks you’re not really paying them to do,” he noted, perhaps for a few hours a day. But hiring another individual, perhaps one who has a disability, takes those tasks off their plate and gives the new hire the satisfaction of doing the job well, he said.

Penn-Mar, based in Freeland, Md. and Springfield Township, York County, is in contact with roughly 100 companies a year, attempting to line up its clients with the right jobs for their skills.

The goal is to get people with disabilities into the right job, not just any job, he said. If an agency sees that a job is not a good fit, it walks away.

“We’re not looking for charity, we’re looking for a good match and a good relationship,” Miller said. “And ultimately, if the person isn’t good in your business, if it’s not good for productivity or morale … it’s not a good hire.”

Making a match

Other company leaders at the forum said it’s important when hiring individuals with disabilities to find the job that matches their skills.

“It’s a two-way street, and you have to look at (the possible position) like any other position, with expectations and requirements … and you want this to be sustainable for both the individual and the organization,” said Anthony Campisi, president and CEO of Glatfelter Insurance Group of York Township.

An employee-owned company, it is one of the largest privately-owned insurance brokers in the U.S., serving more than 30,000 clients. It has roughly 520 employees overall, 370 of them at its main offices.

Campisi, Glatfelter Insurance’s leader since December 1999, said one employee in the company’s food-services section has been a great addition, and he would be open to hiring more people who have intellectual disabilities.

“The message here that I would want to convey to other employers is to be aware of the value that these individuals can play, if you get the right fit,” said Campisi, who declined to name the employee.

The York Revolution baseball team also has worked with Penn-Mar to employ intellectually disabled individuals in its concessions and cleanup crews and those with physical disabilities as ushers, ticket-takers and catering hosts.

“It is critical that we be the most welcoming business in York County. Our ability to be sustainable as a business is getting people to come here,” said Eric Menzer, the Revolution team president. And when fans come in, they will see the disabled and non-disabled as employees, he said.

“The bottom line is that our expectation for all of them is the same as with any other employee, and that includes representing us to the public to the best of their ability, and we’ve never had the slightest problem with that. In fact, to the extent that a customer with a disability sees this and feels more welcome as a result, so much the better,” Menzer added.

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David O'Connor

David O'Connor

Dave O'Connor covers York County, manufacturing, higher education, nonprofits, and workforce development. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at doconnor@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @DaveOC_CPBJ.

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