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What is Your Reaction Towards Hiring A Worker with a Disability?

The following excerpt is from an interview with an employer who hired a worker with mental retardation. The employer is a manager of a student cafeteria at a local university. The employer hired Charlie as a dining room attendant.

RRTC: How did you react when you were first approached about hiring a worker with mental retardation?

Employer: "Several questions entered my mind.

  • How limited was Charlie? I was told that Charlie was nonverbal.

  • How would I supervise this individual? I had no training in that area. I had never been around people with are mentally retarded.

  • How would the customers and my other employees react to Charlie?

  • Would he be accepted in the University community? "

"Evaluating these questions and getting some answers from the RRTC on how they could help support our hiring of Charlie and follow through with it, I decided to take a chance and see how it would work out"

RRTC: What Problems or difficulties have you encountered since hiring a worker who is mentally retarded?

Employer: " The first problem was communication. I could communicate to Charlie but Charlie could not communicate back to me. I didn't know how Charlie felt about something. To remedy some of this, I had to remember not to ask Charlie open-ended questions like, How do you feel today, Charlie? Instead, I'd say, do you feel good today, Charlie".

"The other thing was that I did not know if I was getting through to Charlie. I couldn't really have an employee conference with Charlie. We remedied that by bringing in the RRTC staff and we'd sit down and have a conference with Charlie. The folks at the RRTC showed me and Charlie how to communicate with each other."

RRTC: What have been the advantages or payoffs to you or to your company?

Employer: "We have enjoyed reduced turnover. Many people will come into a position looking to move up or they will get out, Charlie hasn't done that yet. Also, it makes us unique. Everyone knows Charlie and remembers him. He's become and institution at the cafeteria."

"Charlie's on time and has no significant absences. He's a real joy to have as an employee".

There are many employers and rehabilitation professionals in the nation who still need to recognize the availability and quality of the "largely untapped labor force" of people with disabilities. Surprised? Maybe? Maybe not? Just as businesses have developed recruiting plans for other segments of the workforce, the same is needed for individuals with disabilities. As Charlie's employer found out, safety, attendance, productivity, job stability, customer satisfaction and job satisfaction are just some areas in which workers with disabilities are equal to their non-disabled co-workers.