Helping everyone gain ‘the best prize’ of work
Hiring people with disabilities makes great business sense
President Theodore Roosevelt once opined, “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”
Indeed, the importance of work can never be overstated. Not only does work allow us to provide for ourselves and our families, but it also improves our sense of self worth and gives our lives a sense of purpose. But what about those who have been traditionally shut out of the workforce? How can we enlarge the circle of prosperity to include those who would like to work but face significant barriers to employment?
Consider the case of those with disabilities. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 17.8 percent of people with disabilities were employed in 2011, in contrast to 63.6 percent of the population without disabilities who had secured work. This is an inequity that must be rectified if we are to help all Americans reach their full potential in the workplace.
Stefan Isenberg of Goffstown was one of the 63.6 percent until 2009, when his leg was crushed by a large truck at work leading to an amputation and an uncertain work future. Thankfully, a year later with the help of prosthetists and revolutionary technology that allowed him to walk as if his legs were biological again, the 31-year-old man was back at work doing what he loves.
Similarly, U.S. Marine Corps veteran Andres Burgos, who lost his leg in a motorcycle accident in 2011, turned disability into ability as he worked diligently to regain the mobility he needed to secure employment at Motorcycles of Manchester South in Foxboro, Mass.
Hiring people with disabilities doesn’t just benefit the job-seeker; it also makes great business sense. Customers with disabilities and their families and friends represent a trillion-dollar market segment. A large number of Americans say that they prefer to patronize businesses that hire people with disabilities.
Further, employees with disabilities bring a unique viewpoint to the workplace and their experiences can lead to product innovation that opens new market opportunities.
As the United States continues to pull out of a recession, it is imperative that workers with disabilities become part of our national economic development strategy. They are hard-working, they are capable and they want to contribute. With experiences shaped from tragedy and guided by an unceasing desire to rise above, they represent the best of the American workforce and should be given every opportunity to succeed. They are a dependable, persevering solution definitely deserving of the “best prize that life has to offer” that Roosevelt spoke about so many years ago.
Matthew J. Albuquerque is the president of Manchester-based Next Step Bionics & Prosthetics, which also has offices in Newton, Mass., and Warwick, R.I.