Did you know that October was National Disability Employment Awareness Month? Promoting the importance of embracing people with disabilities into our workforce began in 1945, when Congress declared the first week of October as “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” Following the conclusion of World War II, many people were struggling to find their way back into the workforce, especially those with disabilities.
The name changed in 1962, omitting the word “physically” to acknowledge workers with all types of disabilities. In 1988, Congress extended the awareness event to span the entire month of October, providing more opportunities for education and outreach.
Goodwill began integrating people with disabilities into the workforce long before our country as a whole recognized the value of doing so. We have long been an advocate for the quality, creativity, passion and commitment workers with disabilities contribute to our nation’s workforce.
“Inclusion is an inherent driver of Goodwill’s shared aspirations for people with disabilities, which are grounded in choice and the ability to earn wages,” said Laura Walling, Senior Director of Government Affairs for Goodwill Industries International. Goodwill employs more than 28,000 team members nationally with disabilities – nearlyone quarter of our entire workforce.
“Throughout its history, Goodwill and its independent member organizations have sought to meet the needs of all job seekers,” said Clark Brekke, President and CEO of Goodwill Industries of the Inland Northwest. “To this day, we offer programs for youth, veterans and those with disabilities to reach their full potential through education, skills training and the power of work.”
As pioneers, Goodwill led the way, but there is work to be done. One in five Americans has a disability, and they make up nearly 20 percent of America’s workforce. Today, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities who are actively seeking employment is three times higher than for those who do not have a disability.
“By fostering a culture that embraces individual differences, including disabilities, businesses profit by having a wider variety of tools to confront challenges,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy, Jennifer Sheehy. “Our nation’s most successful companies proudly make inclusion a core value. They know that inclusion works.”
One such local partner is Papa Murphy’s. Patrick McCabe owns multiple Papa Murphy’s franchise locations in Spokane. In 2014, Goodwill recognized Patrick and his team as “Employer of the Year” at our annual Awards Night event. In the coming weeks, Goodwill will film two video stories of participants who have been employed at Papa Murphy’s for the last several years – Merle and Lindsey.
Merle began working at Papa Murphy’s in the fall of 2013. He had been unemployed when he was referred to Goodwill earlier that year, although he had a strong work history from previous jobs. Merle was struggling to find long-term work.
He is social, tenacious and has a great sense of humor. Abandoned as an infant, Merle was quickly taken in by a foster family who believes that everyone has potential. “We have a saying in our family,” said Florence, Merle’s adoptive mother. “Never, never, never give up. If it doesn’t work the first time, try doing it different the next time.”
“We were lucky enough to keep him,” said Florence. Since that struggling beginning, Merle has thrived. When told by doctors and educators Merle would never be able to do many things, like get his high school diploma or drive a car, Merle’s family encouraged him to keep striving.
Today, Merle is working several hours a day, six days a week at Papa Murphy’s. He is now training new members of the team at his store. He saved to purchase his own car – a 2001 Mercury Sable, of which he is very proud – and to take driving lessons.
Lindsey is also a Goodwill participant who has been hired by Papa Murphy’s. Lindsey was referred to Goodwill because she was struggling to find employment. She had recently lost her job, and when she applied for other work, she felt that her disability was causing doors to close. Knowing that Papa Murphy’s was a successful work experience for Merle, Goodwill contacted them again when they saw an opening for Lindsey.
Lindsey also works for Sodexo on campus at Gonzaga university two days a week. She says she loves both of herjobs, and the opportunity she has to interact with people, and bring home a paycheck.
“I don’t like just hanging out at home,” says Lindsey. “I love getting up and going to work.”
Our country needs more companies like Papa Murphy’s and Sodexo; companies that give people who have a disability the opportunity to work, to enhance their quality of life and achieve their dreams, and experience pride, self-sufficiency and social acceptance.
“Goodwill believes that by assisting all workers achieve their full potential, we are able to build stronger communities,” said Heather Alexander, Director of Marketing and Strategic Communications. “Once again this year, we are thrilled to celebrate the wonderful achievements of Goodwill program participants, like Merle, and all employees with disabilities, during National Disability Employment Awareness Month.”