Special Needs and Your Business
by James A. Caffry
Employing people with disabilities
As the economy continues to grow and, with it, the need for employees, Vermont businesses would be wise to consider opportunities to hire Vermonters with disabilities.
With the federal unemployment rate below 8 percent and the Vermont unemployment rate at 5.4 percent, according to a report from Cornell University, the unemployment rate for working-age people with disabilities is over 60 percent nationally and over 53 percent in Vermont. Within our population of just over 620,000 are an estimated 82,000 residents with disabilities. This includes people with physical, psychiatric, and developmental disabilities and traumatic brain injuries. Many of these individuals have a strong desire to work.
Numerous resources can assist you, as an employer, in hiring and retaining qualified employees with disabilities. The Vermont Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (aka VocRehab), a division of the Agency of Human Services that serves more than 8,000 Vermonters with disabilities each year, works with them to find and maintain employment (www.vocrehab.vermont.gov). The division also partners with other organizations — nonprofits like the Vermont Association of Business Industry and Rehabilitation (VABIR) (www.vabir.org) and the Vermont Center for Independent Living (www.vcil.org) — which also provide employment support to Vermonters with developmental and psychiatric disabilities. Designated nonprofits, e.g., HowardCenter, also provide employment support services to these Vermonters (www.vtcouncil.org).
In 2010, VocRehab launched the Creative Workforce Solutions (CWS) initiative (www.cwsvt.com), working with VABIR to provide a coordinated workforce development program that makes it easier for employers and potential employees with disabilities to create and maintain successful job placements.
After determining your workforce needs, CWS can prescreen and recommend qualified candidates and provide employee training.
Tax credits and deductions are available for making businesses accessible to persons with disabilities and for hiring people from groups such as individuals with disabilities and veterans, which have consistently faced significant barriers to employment. CWS will help you determine and seek eligibility for these.
CWS offers several programs such as “Temp to Hire,” under which an employer pays only the employee’s hourly wage for a six-week trial period, while the CWS program pays all FICA, unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation insurance, taxes, and other employee benefits (e.g., health insurance).
Other programs include an on-the-job-training arrangement under which you, as an employer, can be reimbursed up to $3,000 for training expenses. Resources such as assistive technologies can facilitate communication by individuals with certain disabilities.
Your costs of making accommodations for employees with disabilities are generally small. One study found that many such required accommodations cost nothing; almost 70 percent of all accommodations cost under $500.
Numerous studies and reports confirm that, once hired, employees with disabilities equal or exceed the job performance, longevity, safety, and attendance records of employees without disabilities. Certain disabilities may actually result in individuals’ having exceptional skills in some areas while having significant difficulties in other areas. The key is for employers to be willing to move beyond first impressions to give an individual the opportunity to show what he or she can really do.
Many businesses people have already learned that employing individuals with disabilities improves not only the financial bottom line but also the overall workplace environment. Vermont farmer and cheese maker Mateo Kehler of Jasper Hill Farm in Greensboro has employed Annie for more than three years. Mateo put it this way: “Annie’s presence has changed the culture of Jasper Hill. We are a better organization because she is here.”
There is a large underutilized pool of workers waiting for a chance to make a meaningful contribution. VocRehab and its nonprofit partners are ready to help hire and train talented, dedicated Vermonters who happen to have a disability. Everybody wins when Vermont employers are able to look beyond individuals’ disabilities and recognize their capabilities. •
Jim Caffry is an attorney in Waterbury (www.caffrylaw.com) with a statewide special needs and estate planning practice. He is the father of three children, including a son with autism and other special needs.