March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month

Greetings!  Many of you may know that March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month.  During this important month, we join with our partners – individuals, families, advocates and allies, providers, employers, and community leaders – in celebrating people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and raising awareness about inclusion in our communities. 

In fact, I want to suggest a step beyond inclusion, which is integration.  One pathway to meaningful integration occurs when a person with a disability has the opportunity to provide valued contributions in the workplace.  Employers all over the country know this is true.  When employers embrace the opportunity to hire people with disabilities, they often achieve unexpected business results.  These include returns on investment in the form of tax incentives and productivity.  Many employers report that their employees with I/DD are highly motivated and have a strong work ethic, which can pay dividends.  Research conducted by Accenture, which looked at 140 large U.S. disability-inclusive companies over a four-year period using the Disability Equality Index, showed that of those studied, the companies in the top third as measured on the index had 28 percent greater revenue and more than double the net income of the companies in the remaining two-thirds.  Accenture also found that staff turnover is up to 30 percent lower in companies with well-run disability community outreach programs.     

In light of this landscape, I am pleased to bring you a timely update about DBHDD’s progress in making Competitive Integrated Employment a reality for all Georgians with I/DD who desire it.  Since our inaugural Supported Employment Forum last March, the Gardens of Change – six regional grassroots leadership teams that were cultivated at the forum to promote inclusion and employment in the community – have all sprouted.  The evidence is seen at the state level and in our six regions.

At the state level, a leadership group consisting of members of Georgia’s Employment First Council, state agencies, universities, provider agencies, and others, collaborates to devise strategies for alignment of policies, funding structure, workforce development, and data collection.  The group’s goal is to limit barriers that may prevent job seekers with I/DD from achieving and maintaining Competitive Integrated Employment.  This means full- or part-time work in an individual job in the general labor market, compensated at minimum wage or higher, at a workplace in the community that is not owned or managed by the provider of support services, and where the person with the disability works and interacts with people without disabilities.  This is the first and preferred option for all working-age citizens with disabilities in the state of Georgia. 

At the regional level, we have an abundance of outreach to local communities.  This includes provider and family information sessions, job development training for job coaches/employment specialists, leadership training for supported employment providers, family webinars about the value of employment, and much more.  We share success stories through Network News highlighting the value employment brings to the individuals we serve and their employers.

Our goal is to increase the rate of people in Georgia with I/DD who are working in Competitive Integrated Employment from the current level of 16.3 percent to 48.9 percent by 2025.  This is an aggressive and measurable goal that serves individuals and employers.  It provides an opportunity to address labor shortages and impact workplace cultures across the state.  As Georgia seeks to be a great state to do business, we want to ensure that all Georgians can work and thrive.  We have a team of dedicated leaders, service providers, program managers, and staff who value community partnerships and will continue to prioritize opportunities for Competitive Integrated Employment for all persons with I/DD who desire to work in the community.