Plunkett: County lacks job opportunities for people with disabilities

Rory Plunkett

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

People with disabilities have historically been overlooked in our country and our county. Especially when it comes to employment resources, people with mental and physical disabilities don’t get the opportunities that they deserve. 

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The resources and support systems in Larimer County do not properly help people with disabilities. People with disabilities deserve more and both employers and employees benefit when people with disabilities are hired.

Sami Peterson, a mother in Fort Collins with a 25-year-old son on the autism spectrum, said people with disabilities are the most encompassing and largest minority group in the world.

“People with disabilities are so important to our society because it is a minority group that spans race, religion and socio-economic status,” Peterson said. “And yet they are the least represented minority group in our country.”

According to the World Health Organization, 15 percent of the world’s population is living with some sort of disability. In 1970 this number was about 10 percent.

Despite this, there are not enough employment opportunities for people with disabilities in Larimer County.

In America, between 80 to 90 percent of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities are unemployed, according to the Arc of Larimer County. Compare that number to the national unemployment rate, which was about four percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Peterson said that there are three problems for people with disabilities when it comes to gaining employment: their belief in themselves as being employable, educating employers on the benefits of hiring people with disabilities and the current support systems which do not use best practices to help people with disabilities gain employment.

People with disabilities can provide a huge benefit to the workplace, according to a study from DePaul University focused on how people with disabilities could benefit the workforce.

The study reported that among employees with disabilities, there were low absenteeism rates and long tenures. This results in low turnover rates and these employees were described as being reliable, loyal and hardworking.

Peterson said that in Larimer County the systems in place that help people find employment focus on job placement and not on customizable employment.

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“We have a tendency to think it’s a benevolent act of grace and mercy to employ someone with a disability,” Peterson said. “Which doesn’t lead to long-term employment because benevolence and grace run out eventually.”

The Office of Disability Employment Policy describes customizable employment as a relationship between the employee and employer as being personalized in a way that meets the needs of both. This type of employment results in a win-win situation.

This is different than the usual job placement that Peterson has witnessed with her son in Fort Collins. With customizable employment, businesses work with individuals in the same fashion that they would someone else who does not have a disability.

According to Peterson, the current systems place people with disabilities in entry-level positions and keep them there for years without any mobility, which is an example of job placement instead of customizable employment.

“When I would try to advocate for my son and push back against the systems that simply placed my son in entry-level jobs, I was told that I was asking for too much and not being realistic,” Peterson said. 

“We have a tendency to think it’s a benevolent act of grace and mercy  to employ someone with a disability, which doesn’t lead to long term employment because benevolence and grace run out eventually.” – Sami Peterson

People with disabilities can absolutely be contributing members of society just like anyone without a disability can be. Larimer County is not doing their citizens justice with the lack of employment resources for people with disabilities.

Rory Plunkett can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @jericho.wav.