Disabled workers finding more employment opportunities

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Finding a job can be tough on anyone but having a disability can make it even tougher. Even after the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed in 1990 the employment rate for people with disabilities stayed around 22 percent, according to Research on Employment Policy for Persons with Disabilities from Cornell University. More than 20 years later that rate has increased to 35.2 percent.

Michigan employs 31.1 percent of its disabled population, a number that has been increasing since 2010. Michigan Rehabilitation Services (MRS) has 35 offices throughout Michigan that help people with a variety of disabilities. Steve Girardin the MRS district manager shares how their services provide jobs for the disabled.

“We work with employers through our Business Network Unit,” Girardin said. “We pay businesses to provide training programs, that gives the worker some experience and Screen Shot 2017-03-23 at 11.08.48 AMgives the employer a chance to see their potential.”

An increase in services like Girardin as well as more open-minded businesses has contributed to the increase in employment.

“There are a lot more opportunities now,” Girardin said. “Companies are a lot more willing to give disabled people a chance then they were 20 years ago.”

Dave Maier is a Meijer employee who has cerebral palsy and is grateful he gets to come to work every day.

“You know I am 40 years old and I remember worrying about being able to get a job when I was younger,” Maier said. “I absolutely love being able to get up every day and come to work and help other people.”

Disabled people are also gaining more access to education and life skill training. Milford Michigan is home to a post-secondary education program for students with disabilities. This takes students with all types of disabilities from ages 18 to 26 and teaches them life skills.

Sharon McIntyre is a paraprofessional who works with the students.

“We want to make them as independent as possible,” McIntyre said. “Years ago people with disabilities weren’t mainstreamed in society now with programs like this, they learn life skills so they can take care of themselves.”

The program also takes the more abled students to local stores every day to receive job training, which could lead to them getting hired once they are out of the program.

“It really is the most rewarding thing,” McIntyre said. “It gives them a sense of purpose.

Garrett Bailey has a brother with Down syndrome, who has been in the program for three years.

“It’s been really cool to see his progress,” Bailey said. “He is learning how to do things that you and I take for granted, and that’s really special.”