Companies find advantages to hiring disabled

Finding a job is tough for the disabled when times are flush.

In the current economy, Wayne McMillan of Atlanta's Bobby Dodd Institute suspects the typical employment rate of 35 percent has gotten worse for his clients. The institute gives job training to the physically and mentally disabled.

"Entry-level jobs are being cut or shipped overseas. For other jobs, the amount of competition from the recently unemployed has made it tougher," he said.

No firm statistics on recent unemployment rates for the disabled are known, but Sue Wight, community employment supervisor at the Hi Hope Service Center in Lawrenceville, has felt the effects of tough times. Since December, 11 of the 30 people they helped find jobs have lost them.

"It's unbelievable," she said.

Like other service agencies in metro Atlanta, Hi Hope is working to find new jobs for clients.

In April, the Bobby Dodd Institute began sending trainers to companies such as Mirant and the Alston & Byrd law firm to teach free seminars on employing the disabled. Alston & Byrd recently hired one institute client, he said.

Many companies don't know what to expect and wonder about the cost of accommodations, such as wheelchair ramps or a special keyboard, McMillan said. Some require no accommodations. Those that do, cost about $500 on average, a study by the institute found.

Rosalie Chamberlain, diversity manager at Alston & Byrd said the seminar helped its human resources department refresh information and its thinking about hiring the disabled.

McMillan said there are advantages to hiring the disabled. They hang on to jobs longer, even in businesses where there is high turnover, as in a restaurant.

"A job means a heck of a lot more to them," he said.

Frank Harris, 31, got trained at Bobby Dodd Institute. He went to worked six years ago at a Panera Bread near Emory University.

He said he had one job before. The help he got at the institute prepared him to find a better job and become independent, he said. He has a mental disability.

His manager, Frank Duty, said he realized that it is a tough job market for the disabled.

"But I would take Frank over 99 out of 100 people that come in the door here," he said.

"He works hard. He works fast. I can count on him to be there in the long term."