As Central Indiana employers struggle to fill open positions, there’s an often-overlooked labor pool that could help fill workforce gaps. Thousands of Hoosiers with disabilities are unemployed – and the business community can play a critical role in addressing the disparity.

In Indiana, 1 in 4 Hoosiers have a disability, but that does not and should not exclude them from the workforce. In 2020, the nationwide unemployment rate for individuals with disabilities was 12.6%, compared to 7.9% for those without a disability, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the year since that data was released, the overall unemployment rate has dropped significantly to 3.9% while that of individuals with disabilities has remained high at 10.8%. And in Indiana, only 23% of individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities reported individual employment in 2021.

What are the drivers behind these high unemployment rates? Although many individuals with disabilities are well-prepared for the workforce, unfounded stereotypes – such as the idea that reasonable accommodations are too costly, or individuals with disabilities don’t have the necessary skills or expertise to succeed – often prevent them from obtaining employment. In reality, accommodations can often be implemented at minimal cost, and individuals with disabilities have unique and valuable skills that are often underutilized.

Programs like New Hope of Indiana’s Vocational Services work to prepare and upskill individuals with disabilities looking for meaningful work. Job coaches in this program work with individuals to identify their strengths, the types of jobs that would best suit them and a job-search strategy. They also build relationships with partner employers to educate them and fill open positions.

For instance, the Indianapolis Apple Store has benefitted from the addition of a visually impaired team member. With a touch point identifier on product displays, this team member can locate products for customers and support the sales team. This accommodation came at a nominal cost to the company.

While New Hope of Indiana and similar organizations are working to ensure that individuals with disabilities have meaningful employment opportunities, support from the business community is critical. This Disability Awareness Month, consider ways to foster inclusion of individuals with disabilities in your organization. This could range from establishing a disability resource group to cultivate belonging among your employees to exploring accommodations to make your company more accessible for all. Advocate for small and large steps toward a more equitable workplace. Better yet, hire individuals with disabilities – you’ll help to contribute to improved diversity and inclusion, and you may also discover benefits to your business, culture and customers.

If you’d like to connect with New Hope of Indiana to kickstart your involvement, please contact Patrick at 317-744-5026.

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