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Erasing barriers to employment

March 13, 2017

By Brent Mikulski, President and CEO of Services to Enhance Potential
For many individuals with disabilities, including intellectual or developmental disabilities (IDD), employment is a source of pride. It gives that person a sense of community and allows them to be connected to normal, day-to-day life.  

According to recent census data, there are more than 56 million Americans with disabilities, nearly 20% of the population.  For those living with a disability, there are many challenges they have to overcome — This includes finding a job. 

However, most Americans with intellectual or developmental disabilities, which can include conditions such as autism or Down syndrome, remain shut out of the workforce, despite changing attitudes and billions of dollars spent on government programs to help them. Even when they find work, it’s often part time.

A job provides a crucial link for improving the quality of life.  Yet only 34 percent of intellectually disabled adults are actually working, according to a survey by Special Olympics and conducted by Gallup and the University of Massachusetts at Boston. 

Even with tremendous progress removing the barriers to employment, barriers still exist. The largest barrier to employing someone with a disability is perception. We can eliminate the barriers by continuing to educate others on the value and benefits of hiring workers with disabilities. 

Men and women living with a disability are smart hires. Employing someone with a disability, such as behavioral health problems benefits both employers and employees. 

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and Michigan Supreme Court Justice Richard Bernstein launched a partnership to highlight the opportunities for hiring Michiganders with disabilities across the state.  The MI Hidden Talent tour was focused on highlighting the skills of people with disabilities that are often overlooked.  “Employers that hire disabled people are ultimately rewarded with team members who bring passion, energy, and loyalty to the workplace. Disabled employees rally their fellow workers and serve as a unified force who can teach the values of resiliency, compassion, and understanding,” said Justice Bernstein. “More often than not, people who have infirm bodies also possess the strongest souls and the most powerful spirits, traits which enhance the workplace and our economy as a whole. People with disabilities are hardworking, energetic, and engaged people who will be loyal to their employer. The offer of employment for a disabled person is a game changer – they do more and achieve more because they are thrilled to have been given an opportunity.”

Employing people with disabilities leads to increased independence and happiness not just for the person with the disability, but for everyone else in the workplace thus bolstering morale, People with disabilities are known to have a strong work ethic, low turnover and desire to succeed. Hiring people with a disability makes good business sense and is good for business.   It also demonstrates a commitment to diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

To sustain a workforce in Michigan the business community must hire smart and remove the barriers for employing people with disabilities, this includes the stigma of people with IDD.

It is time business leaders stop underestimating people with disabilities. Stop focusing on what they can’t do and focus on what they can do and can offer. A job is more than a paycheck. It is about respect, it is about dignity and it is about the opportunity to make your life a productive one. 

Business owners may also qualify for tax incentives when hiring a person with a disability. The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) is a Federal tax credit available to employers for hiring individuals from certain target groups who have consistently faced significant barriers to employment.  WOTC helps targeted workers move from economic dependency into self-sufficiency as they earn a steady income and become contributing taxpayers, while participating employers are able to reduce their income tax liability. For more information on qualifying for WOTC incentives, please see

We have made tremendous progress since the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed 25 years ago.  However, a disability should not define a job candidate. We need to continue to support funding for special education, high school transition program and other ways to think beyond the label and encourage companies throughout the State of Michigan to support and celebrate workplace policies of diversity and inclusion in employing those with a disability.
Brent Mikulski is the President and CEO of Services to Enhance Potential, a Community Based Non-profit organization helping individuals with a disability find employment. For more information visit or contact Brent at

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