Statewide push aims to get more jobs for developmentally disabled

At any given time, the Georgia Spice Co. has one to six people with developmental disabilities on its payroll.

Here’s why. Not only are they eager to work, but they also are loyal and conscientious, according to Selma Shapiro, president of the 15-employee Atlanta manufacturing company.

Shapiro said she made that realization a year or so ago after learning about efforts by All About Developmental Disabilities to help individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities find employment.

“It occurred to me a long time ago that there were people out there who didn’t have a lot of skill but who would dearly love to have a place to come every day and know they were doing a good job,” she said recently.

It’s an attitude that AADD hopes other business owners in Georgia will share. The Atlanta-based nonprofit and advocacy group this week launched the HireAbility Georgia Campaign in an effort to educate employers about the benefits of hiring people with developmental disabilities and to raise awareness of the issue in advance of the 2015 Georgia legislative session, which will start in January.

“Our state is in the midst of an economic recovery, but for people with developmental disabilities, finding employment can be extremely challenging,” said Kathy Keeley, executive director of AADD. “The unemployment rate for people with developmental disabilities is close to 80 percent. The HireAbility Georgia campaign will focus on changing that.”

As a left-handed female business owner, Shapiro said she knew “what it was like to be swimming upstream.” She reached out to AADD and has never looked back.

“Some of them were able to do the work. Some didn’t like the work. Some of them loved it and wanted to keep working,” Shapiro said. “It worked for them and it worked for us.”

For that reason, she’s a strong believer in AADD’s HireAbility Georgia campaign.

“I think any business would do well to give this a shot,” Shapiro said.

Keeley said hiring people with developmental disabilities benefits both businesses and society.

For instance, she said, turnover and absenteeism rates are much lower among people with developmental disabilities. They also foster better morale and increased customer satisfaction.

“Preconceptions and limited understanding about developmental disabilities often keep people with disabilities from finding work,” Keeley said. “Employers worry that these employees will not be able to keep up with the pace or that their customers will disapprove. Yet in fact the opposite is true.”

Keeley said she hopes employers will see the benefits and the opportunities in hiring individuals with disabilities and call with job openings.

“We want to partner with them to ensure successful hires that stand out as their best employees,” she said.

The campaign, she said, also will seek to educate business owners on the tax advantages available to them including the Small Business Tax Credit, the Transportation/Architectural Tax Deduction and the Work Opportunity Tax Credit.

Although there are a number of organizations throughout the state that help individuals with developmental disabilities find and retain employment, better access to employers of all sizes and types is badly needed, Keeley said. She said this new campaign will directly address that.

“We want to educate employers about the advantages and partner with them to open up more opportunities,” Keeley said. “We need more employers to work with us to carve out real jobs that lead to productive lives engaged in the community rather than having people sitting at home on their couch.”

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.