Qualified yet unemployed. The plight of adults with intellectual disabilities.

Employment Conference to show how many companies are leveraging ‘The Overlooked Workforce’, March 12, FIU

The American unemployment rate is at record low levels. That is, except for adults with intellectual disabilities. As a group, this population faces staggering unemployment, varying from 60 percent to almost 90 percent.

Another 500,000 young adults with autism are expected to enter the US workforce over the next decade, notes HR Digest. Many will be adequately qualified, and might even have held jobs as minors, experts say. However, once they reach adulthood, employment plummets. The reasons vary. But what remains constant is that without gainful employment, many cannot lead independent and fulfilling lives.

“They don’t need to be CEOs,” said Milton Vescovacci, chairman of the upcoming FIU Embrace Employment Conference. “They just want to live independent, functioning lives.”

The FIU Embrace Employment Conference will explore why and how employers should welcome the “overlooked workforce” of intellectually or developmentally disabled into their companies. The event will be held Monday, March 12, from 8am to 5pm at the Florida International University Graham Center Ballrooms. Participation is free, but advance registration is required. The Conference is intended for employers, HR professionals and diversity officers.

“FIU Embrace is designed to help bridge the knowledge gap, to help human resources and employers understand how to incorporate people with developmental disabilities into their organizations,” said Vescovacci, a shareholder with Miami law firm GrayRobinson, P.A., whose teenage son’s autism has Vescovacci wondering about his future employment prospects.

“Conference participants will learn that employers who have taken the leap to employ the developmentally disabled don’t have to change much,” he said. “That is part of the mission of the conference – to educate people and help them learn how they can help these employees lead meaningful, independent lives.”

Conference keynote speaker, Randy Lewis, is a former Vice President of Walgreens who pioneered Walgreens’ model program of employment for people with disabilities. The program has been recognized as the “gold standard of disability employment” by the National Governors Association and the company scored 90 percent on the 2016 Disability Equality Index from the American Association of People with Disabilities. In his best-selling book on the subject, “No Greatness Without Goodness: How a Father’s Love Changed a Company and Sparked a Movement,” Lewis chronicled how an inclusive workplace at one of America’s biggest corporations created “a place where people with disabilities could not just succeed, but thrive.” Lewis today is Executive Director of the NOGWOG Disability Initiative, a foundation dedicated to employment diversity.

As Lewis, Vescovacci, and others know, the intellectually disabled often attend grade school for education and socialization skills. However, their progress can fall off after graduation. As adults, employers may be unwilling to hire these individuals and those who do find work typically receive fewer hours and at low-wage jobs, notes one report. Many with intellectual disabilities who find work often suffer bullying, notes HR Digest.

“Their opportunities are very limited,” said Vescovacci. “Even for those who go to college and are prepared to work, there’s a high ratio of unemployment because of issues innate with their disability, like socialization.”

Conference attendees will learn that hiring a candidate with a developmental disability such as Autism need not be challenging. Discussions will include strategies for interviewing job candidates with uniquely personal habits or quirks, how to create meaningful jobs within the organization, implementing sensitivity training for supervisors and coworkers, and knowing the rights these candidates are entitled to under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Much of the details and key points of the conference will be included on flash-drives that attendees will receive at no cost as take-aways.

The Conference represents just one of several initiatives by FIU Embrace, a university-wide center that promotes health, wellness and overall functioning of adults with developmental disabilities such as autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disabilities, and other neurodevelopmental disorders. A key priority for FIU Embrace is to shed light on youth who have been largely marginalized and excluded from the workforce.

For more conference details and to register online, visit fiuembrace.fiu.edu/employmentconference