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Editorial: Summer jobs program for students with disabilities breaks down barriers to employment

For a young person, a summer job is a great way to keep busy, make money and, most importantly, gain crucial experience to put on your resume that may translate into a full-time gig. This is equally true for young people with disabilities.

Seven nonprofit agencies in Carroll County that serve individuals with disabilities participate in the Summer Youth Work Experience program. Funded through the Division of Rehabilitation Services (DORS), a state agency under the Maryland State Department of Education, the work experience program is for students with disabilities who are enrolled in high school starting at 10th grade, or is enrolled in any post-secondary education program.

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It is designed to help youth with disabilities — intellectual, developmental or physical — to develop the skills necessary to gain future-full-time employment, over the course of six weeks in the summer months.

The nonprofit agencies — like The Arc, and Target Community and Educational Services Inc. — work closely with both their clients and local employers to make sure they find an appropriate match, working to place students in employment opportunities that make the best use of their skills, interests and experience. Students are paid a stipend through the state.

Ideally, the goal is for the summertime stint to result in paid employment for the student after the summer program is complete. Even if it doesn’t, though, it provides an opportunity to gain valuable experience toward future employment, and it gives the students a chance to figure out what kind of work they like doing.

But it’s also an opportunity for students to bust myths and stereotypes about disabled workers.

Studies have shown people with disabilities are reliable employees who take fewer sick days and are more likely to stay on the job longer than nondisabled workers. Other research has shown that disabled employees tend to be more open to new ideas, and those individuals often exceed performance expectations.

Employers also report increased camaraderie and a positive influence on their entire staff when they hire individuals with developmental disabilities, according to a 2015 Inc.com article. That same article notes employers who hired people with disabilities have seen a positive impact on productivity and the bottom line, in part due to those individuals’ strong desire to succeed and seek more responsibility.

Sadly, even decades after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, some employers still avoid hiring individuals with disabilities because they may not believe they are capable of doing the job. They may also be unaware of adaptive technologies that allow someone with a disability to complete a particular task.

Only 34 percent of all developmentally disabled individuals are employed, according to research from Gallup and the University of Massachusetts Boston.

Programs like the Summer Youth Work Experience help break down barriers for both students with disabilities and potential employers.

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