Keep Those with Development Disabilities Working [SOUTHCOAST VOICES]
THIS GUEST OPINION PIECE BY: David Botting is the Community Connections President and CEO, and previously served as its Chief Financial Officer. He previously served as CFO for Cape Cod Child Development.
Walmart’s recent announcement that it will be eliminating its “greeter” role has thrust the workplace challenges facing people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) into the public eye.
Retailers like Walmart are reacting to marketplace trends, including the rise of automation, an increase in the minimum wage, and a low unemployment rate that allows the workforce to be more selective. Interestingly, as many see these changes as positive, there can be a negative effect for several important segments of the working population, the elderly, people with physical disabilities, and people with I/DD, to name a few.
There are many reasons people work, the primary one would be to support themselves and their family. A job can be so much more, especially for people with disabilities. In a work environment where the focus is on their ability and not their disability, they can feel accepted and valued for their contributions to the company and the community. They have the opportunity to forge relationships and friendships with people they would meet only in the workplace. Just like any employee, employment for people with disabilities is more than a job; it is a path that leads to confidence, pride and self-esteem.
With the ongoing challenges that businesses will face, we feel that a proactive and collaborative approach can benefit employers and the people with disabilities that they employ. Our organization, Community Connections, Inc., sees this latest challenge as an opportunity to work with employers to identify how automation, innovation, and the economic environment continues to shape their business and how these factors affect hiring and maintaining employment for people with disabilities. By partnering with employers to anticipate the future of work, we can determine the necessary skills and training to prepare people with disabilities to gain employment and contribute to these organizations in a meaningful way.
For more than 30 years, Community Connections has provided employment services to people with I/DD, mental health and physical disabilities, enabling them to secure employment and remain employed in their own community. While we have seen many changes in the work landscape through the years, we are dedicated to helping the people that we serve to adapt and remain valued members of the workforce.
As a result of the announced changes to the Walmart greeter role, our supported employment Walmart employees, their parents and our employment specialists met with Walmart store managers to discuss the work that these individuals can do. Some “greeters” can transition into “customer hosts” (the new role offered at Walmart), while others can participate in “job tryouts” to find another role that is right for them and for Walmart.
More broadly, we recognize the future of retail will continue to change. While there may be fewer jobs for grocery baggers, the growth of online shopping and curbside pickup at stores does mean that pickers and packers will be needed. We are working with employers to answer the questions: What other job opportunities are on the horizon? What qualifications are needed for these job opportunities? What existing job opportunities are not affected? These are the questions that should be asked when partnering with employers to meet the challenges of a changing workplace.
Employers benefit from a diverse workforce and that includes people with disabilities. As employers continue to navigate the changing landscape, we urge them to create opportunities that do not exclude these loyal and hardworking employees and create a path that will lead to confidence, pride and success for everyone.
All people should have the opportunity to experience the dignity of work.
Editor's Note: 'SouthCoast Voices' is a series of guest opinions from newsmakers and other people across the region, on relevant issues that directly impact the people of Greater New Bedford and the surrounding communities. The opinions are solely those of the author. If you are interested in contributing, please contact email@example.com for more information.