Written by Todd Sanders, President and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Chamber, and Dawn Trapp, CEO of Civitan Foundation Inc.

In honor of Developmental Disabilities Month, we are reminded of the important contributions made by individuals with developmental disabilities to Arizona’s workforce. Hiring individuals with developmental disabilities is a strategic decision that yields numerous benefits for businesses and communities. These efforts also lead to a more innovative and creative workforce with unique perspectives and problem-solving skills honed through their life experiences. Their presence in the workplace can stimulate creativity and encourage out-of-the-box thinking, ultimately driving innovation within the organization.

Connect to Work AZ, an initiative of the Greater Phoenix Chamber Foundation, works to support the employment of unemployed and underemployed individuals in Arizona. By focusing on Arizona’s ready-to-work talent, Connect to Work AZ connects the job seeker with local companies that are eager to hire. This inclusive hiring approach impacts economic mobility in Phoenix’s historically underserved communities and has been proven to be both efficient and effective at getting more unemployed and underemployed individuals into jobs.

The Civitan Foundation provides an accessible, safe, and affordable environment while delivering superior life experiences to enhance the quality of life for children and adults with developmental disabilities. The Foundation has developed multiple social enterprises to help bring meaningful work to those with disabilities including work in retail boutiques, commercial kitchens, and maintenance while also encouraging and developing the talents of each individual.   Employment for many with disabilities is not just a job but a place to create lasting relationships and connectivity.

The work of organizations like Connect to Work AZ and Civitan is vital for strengthening the future workforce of Arizona for years to come. In an increasingly diverse society, companies that reflect the communities they serve are better equipped to understand and meet the needs of their clients and customers. By employing a diverse range of individuals, including those living with developmental disabilities, businesses demonstrate their commitment to serving all members of society, fostering a culture of equity and inclusion within their organization. Additional benefits include enhancing their reputation and attracting a broader consumer base. By embracing individuals with different abilities, companies signal their commitment to equality and create an environment where all employees feel valued and respected. This inclusive culture can enhance morale, productivity, and employee retention rates.

Meaningful work is truly the key!  It is difficult to locate, obtain, and, more importantly, maintain competitive employment and find partnerships that will work for both parties. More than 27% of Arizona’s population have some type of disability and are truly great assets to local companies that take the time and effort to teach and train. Most individuals looking for employment are often paired with coaches to help work on best practices and ways to celebrate their gifts.

By providing meaningful employment opportunities, businesses play a crucial role in promoting social inclusion and breaking down barriers to participation for individuals with disabilities. However, despite these compelling reasons, the employment rate for individuals with developmental disabilities remains low. Overcoming barriers to employment requires concerted efforts from businesses, policymakers, and society as a whole. Companies must proactively recruit and support individuals with developmental disabilities, providing training, accommodations, and opportunities for advancement.

As the state adopts the many changes in DOL and DES mandates, now is the time to explore how this population may help your business. By recognizing the talents and contributions of individuals with developmental disabilities, we can create a more inclusive and equitable society and workforce for all. It’s time for businesses to seize the opportunity and unlock the potential of every individual, regardless of ability.

Learn more about Connect to Work AZ by visiting: https://connecttoworkaz.com/

If your organization is looking to start or enhance your diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, the Greater Phoenix Chamber provides a free DEI Toolkit and resources, which can be found here: https://phoenixchamber.com/membership/diversity-inclusion/

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