Michigan groups work to increase disability employment
MOUNT CLEMENS, Mich. (AP) — Cheryl Angelelli feels lucky.
After a tragic accident in a swimming pool left her a quadriplegic at 14, her parents did not treat her any differently.
“They didn’t coddle me,” said the Clinton Township resident and director of public relations and marketing for DMC Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan. The institute has locations across southeast Michigan, and a host of services that includes occupational therapy.
Angelelli’s parents still expected her to graduate from high school and go on to college so she could pursue whatever career path she wanted.
So, she did.
She attended Oakland University in Rochester Hills where she earned her degree in communications, and eventually landed her current job at DMC.
“I’ve been here for 24 years,” Angelelli told the Macomb Daily from behind her desk at DMC.
DMC’s Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan has more than 30 outpatient centers located throughout southeast Michigan.
Also assisting people with long- or short-term disabilities is the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ office of Michigan Rehabilitation Services, which provides assistance to people with disabilities, and to businesses looking to hire them.
More than 4,600 businesses have participated, and MRS has provided services to 36,586 people. The office says people with disabilities hired into jobs get an average starting wage of $14.74 an hour.
In a tight labor market, companies are employing more people with disabilities than in recent years.
A survey by the National Federation for Independent Business, a small-business trade group, indicates the need for employees is strong. It found 37 percent of small firms had jobs they couldn’t fill in July. That’s the highest proportion on record dating to 1974, according to the Associated Press.
Most recently, statistics released by the U.S. Labor Department indicated there’s one person out there for each of the 6.7 million job openings nationally, an even ratio of job seekers to job openings. That’s down from 6.5 people for every job opening in November 2009 during the Great Recession.
While the numbers of employed workers with disabilities is rising, their numbers remain low, however:
In Oakland County, the number of people with disabilities, short-term and long-term, age 16 and older grew 12.18 percent from 119,449 in 2012 to 133,998 in 2016, the latest year numbers are available. Meanwhile the number of disabled people working grew 20.7 percent from 28,133 in 2012 to 33,957 in 2016.
In Macomb County, the number of people with disabilities age 16 and older grew 8.34 percent from 102,457 in 2012 to 111,002 in 2016. The number of disabled people working grew 7.1 percent, from 20,407 in 2012 to 21,856 in 2016.
Connecting people with disabilities to potential employers or vice versa is where Michigan Rehabilitation Services comes into play. It has offices around the state.
“We identify qualified candidates from our talent pool and match them with job openings that are available,” said Jenny Piatt, bureau division director for MRS covering locations in Oakland and Macomb counties. “We do not approach businesses from a charity perspective. We approach it based on demand.”
Michigan is home to 1.3 million individuals with disabilities, according to MRS, which provides specialized employment and education-related services and training to assist teens and adults with disabilities in becoming employed or retaining employment. Someone could need a suit for a job interview, or another person who might have had a career prior to an accident or illness might need special equipment or a completely new career plan.
MRS partners and collaborates with the state department of education and a variety of local school systems and adult life programs to assist individuals with disabilities looking to advance their education in order to transition to employment or retain their job through additional training.
Piatt said laws were put into place to promote the hiring of individuals with disabilities, and that has helped as has the attitudes of business leaders who lead the way in hiring people with disabilities.
Among the business leaders is Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, whose son has cerebral palsy. For years, technological features for people with disabilities have felt like an afterthought but the CEO is hoping to change that.
This past May the tech giant announced a $25 million program to encourage software and device developers to design products using artificial intelligence that are aimed at the disabled community such as apps that describe what people see, better text-to-speech technology and predictive text to decrease the need for typing.
“Artificial intelligence is beginning to have an impact on the lives of people with disabilities, but it’s only going to grow,” Nadella said in a story by CNET.com.
October is National Disability Awareness Month and it is when the MRS will host its annual Real Talk event.
“We will have companies that will come to the event and talk to our clients about the kind of jobs that they have available and the soft and core skills that are needed,” said Anahita Lord, site manager for MRS in Pontiac.
Soft skills, or survival skills as they are known, include everything from how to prepare a resume to what to look like when attending a job interview. Core skills would include the type of training or education required for the job.
Among the businesses that have participated in the past are Lowe’s, Meijer and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
John Paul Rea, executive director of the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development, said conversations to develop more pilot programs and strategies to get more people with disabilities into the labor pool are increasing. He noted efforts by workforce development agencies as an example.
“The whole notion of expanding our workforce, trying to find creative and innovative ways to get them into the labor market, is absolutely critical for our future,” Rea said. “I think that conversation not only is ongoing, but I think it’s going to broaden in the near future.”
Companies already in the county looking to add jobs, and firms looking to come to Macomb, want detailed information about the qualifications that prospective applicants may have, whether disabled or not.
“We are gaining more intricate knowledge of what companies need. It’s not just, ‘We need 20 workers’ but ‘We need 20 workers to do this,’” Rea said. “Undoubtedly we want to be part of those key conversations, and find those partners.”
Information from: The Macomb Daily, http://www.macombdaily.com