It Starts with You

A photo of Paul Marretti working at Kroger, a grocery store.

By Guest Blogger Janet Froetscher, Chief Executive Officer, Special Olympics

Paul Marretti, 37, is a talented employee of a Fortune 100 company who recently was recognized as his region’s Employee of the Year. He brings a wide range of abilities with him as he serves on national leadership committees, competes in multiple sports and volunteers in his community. Paul also has an intellectual disability.

“Paul is an excellent employee. He’s very reliable, very knowledgeable, a great customer service person,” shares Paul’s supervisor Tammy Henry. “We really appreciate having Paul here.”

Empirical and anecdotal data tell us many people with intellectual disabilities, like Paul, do work and contribute enormously, but that, unfortunately, most are denied the opportunity. A recent Special Olympics survey conducted by Gallup and the University of Massachusetts at Boston identified a few startling statistics on this front:

Only 44 percent of adults with intellectual disabilities are in the labor force, which is defined as either employed or actively seeking work. In contrast, 83 percent of adults without disabilities are in the labor force. Furthermore, the unemployment rate for adults with intellectual disabilities (21 percent) is more than twice as high as those without disabilities (9 percent). Someone is considered unemployed if he or she is without a job and actively looking for and available for work.

Special Olympics’ mission may not be to place people in jobs or force employers to employ people with intellectual disabilities. Our ultimate goal, however, is to enable people with intellectual disabilities to become respected and productive members of society.

Because of this, Special Olympics is a founding member of the Campaign for Disability Employment (CDE), a multi-organization collaborative, funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, that works to promote positive employment outcomes for people with disabilities. The CDE has many resources and vehicles to spread the important message that when it comes to work—just like in sports—it’s what you CAN do that matters.

Each one of us has a role to play in spreading this important message. If you are an employer, hire people with intellectual disabilities in meaningful roles that allow them to contribute and collaborate with co-workers. Your organization will benefit as a result. Our study showed that 62 percent of adults with intellectual disabilities who work in an integrated, competitive setting stay at their jobs for three years or more, which means less time and money spent on training and other expenses associated with high turnover.

If you are an employee, ask your employer to hire someone with an intellectual disability. You will be amazed at what you and your colleagues stand to learn from him or her. Furthermore, you’ll be helping your organization be more inclusive of the community in which it operates.

If you are a person with an intellectual disability yourself, or know someone with an intellectual disability, help us tell your story so others can learn from it. Take pictures at your jobs or with your co-workers that show the skills and talents of people with intellectual disabilities and tweet @SpecialOlympics or @CDETweets to share your story.

It’s up to each of us to change the perceived value of people with intellectual disabilities. We know our best workplace is a fair and just workplace—it’s why we no longer tolerate the discrimination of others. So why do we allow it to continue for people with intellectual disabilities? It’s time to stop, and it starts with you.

About the Guest Blogger

Janet Froetscher is Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Special Olympics, leading the organization and all of its functions in seeking to fulfill the mission and the achievement of the goals of the strategic plan. Based at the Special Olympics global headquarters in Washington D.C., she leads an international team of more than 200 professionals throughout the world who are implementing sports, health, education and community building programming in more than 170 countries every day.

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