By State Senator Julie Lassa
Every year, I look forward to participating in the Wisconsin Board for People with Developmental Disabilities’ “Take Your Legislator to Work” campaign. This innovative program helps legislators like me meet our constituents who are thriving in the workplace making use of their unique abilities, and to learn firsthand about the benefits of encouraging employers to give these workers a chance.
Take Your Legislator to Work just wrapped up its 2015-2016 campaign, in which I was one of 54 legislators to visit 41 businesses and organizations to “job shadow” our constituents at work. This past April, I joined Representative Katrina Shankland at the Community Animal Hospital in Stevens Point. There we met Jeanne Peplinski, who works as a custodian. Jeanne is a very positive person with a winning personality and an infectious laugh, and she clearly loves her job working with the animals at the hospital. She’s also a loyal employee, who told us she hopes to keep working there for the rest of her career.
Over the years, I’ve had a chance to visit my constituents at their workplaces doing many different kinds of jobs, from material handling to child care. Thanks to the Take Your Legislator to Work campaign, I’ve seen that my constituents with developmental disabilities are successful in a wide range of different roles, and that the companies they work for recognize them as valuable members of their team.
Having a job in an integrated workplace is vital to people with developmental disabilities. Besides providing an income, such jobs can be a source of pride and accomplishment, and help workers develop relationships in the community. Having a job allows these workers to focus not on their limitations but on their potential. All of us want to feel a sense of self-direction and that we’re making a positive contribution to our communities, and workers with developmental disabilities are no different.
But it’s not only the worker who benefits – hiring people with developmental disabilities is good for employers as well. Small businesses often struggle to find reliable employees. For many businesses, employee turnover is a challenge that directly affects their bottom lines. Research has shown that the turnover rate for employees with disabilities is nearly 80 percent lower than other employees. Employees with disabilities have job ratings on par with other workers, and require a similar amount of supervision.
And the adjustments employers make to hire people with disabilities can be minimal. More than half the accommodations required cost no money at all, and studies show that employers reap a $28.69 return for every $1 they invest accommodating their workplace for disabled employees. Perhaps that’s one reason 4,875 disabled workers were placed in jobs last year alone, according to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.
Businesses that take the initiative to hire individuals with disabilities are rewarded by having enthusiastic, loyal, and hard-working employees who contribute to their business success. Kudos to the Take Your Legislator to Work campaign for giving policymakers like me a chance to meet with constituents and their employers who are making a positive difference in communities all across our state.