By Jane Elizabeth Burdeshaw, commissioner
Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services
“What do you do for a living?”
We’ve all asked or been asked that question.
It’s a great conversation starter that helps us learn more about a person. It also underscores our society’s emphasis on the value of having an occupation.
The question is no less important to a person with a disability.
For people with disabilities, employment is about much more than having a job. It is the great equalizer. Working empowers people with disabilities by giving them the means to live independently and to contribute to and participate in their communities.
And yet, employment for people with disabilities lags far behind employment for people who do not have disabilities. In Alabama, the employment rate for individuals with disabilities is a meager 27.5% representing a 45.5 percentage point gap when compared to individuals without disabilities (source: Respect Ability).
Working in tandem with our community partners, other state agencies, and the Alabama Workforce Council, Alabama’s Vocational Rehabilitation Service is striving to narrow that gap through specialized employment- and education-related services that assist people with disabilities in finding and maintaining employment. VRS’ customized services and expertise make employment a reality even for individuals with significant disabilities.
In fiscal year 2018, VRS assisted almost 3,500 Alabamians with disabilities in finding employment, including 482 with the most-significant disabilities.
Of course, that accomplishment would not be possible without willing employers.
Oftentimes, business owners are reluctant to hire people with disabilities because of misconceptions related to job performance, reliability, and cost as well as a lack of familiarity with the resources that are available to ensure a worker’s success on the job.
In reality, though, hiring people with disabilities makes good business sense. The proof is in the results, and it has been my experience that one successful placement with an employer “kicks open” the door to future job opportunities for other workers with disabilities. It’s a win-win scenario: The employer gains a loyal worker and benefits from a more-diverse and inclusive workplace, while the employee gains and benefits from the satisfaction that comes from having a job.
Through the VRS Business Relations Program, employers have access to disability experts who provide no-cost services such as job analysis; recruiting; pre-hire screening; job-site training; post-hire follow-up; disability management; and employer training on such topics as the Americans with Disabilities Act, the medical aspects of disability, the reasonable accommodations process, and disability awareness and etiquette. VRS business relations consultants also offer employers information on financial incentives, pre-hire work experiences, and on-the-job training reimbursements.
VRS is proud to be contributing to Gov. Kay Ivey’s AlabamaWorks Success Plus program through the various services and supports we provide to job-seekers, workers and employers. Specifically, we see VRS as critical to improving work opportunities for a population that faces significant barriers to employment.
As we strive to achieve the goals of the Success Plus initiative, we are working diligently to assure that people with disabilities are included and prepared to join other Alabamians in experiencing the gratification and fulfillment of gainful employment.
For more information about VRS and its services and programs, call 1-800-441-7607. To learn more about AlabamaWorks, visit www.alabamaworks.com.