An untapped pool of high-quality workers

Individuals with alternate abilities bring dedication, loyalty to the job

Individuals born with autism or Down syndrome have for too long been referred to as “developmentally disabled.” We believe that it is time to refer to these individuals as having alternate abilities, and to recognize their full value and potential as equal members of the New Hampshire community and workforce.

Individuals with alternate abilities represent an untapped pool of dedicated, high-quality employees.

It is widely documented, but not well known, that individuals with alternate abilities:

 • Are dependable, taking great pride in the work they do and showing it through hard work, punctuality, attendance, morale and contagious enthusiasm

 • Have a much lower turnover rate than others performing the same duties

 • Help to increase customer loyalty

 • Serve as role models for co-workers who show increased support and job satisfaction when working alongside individuals with developmental disabilities

 • Are more integrated into their communities when they have a meaningful job that allows them to live more independently

Unfortunately, educators, social service agencies and businesses all too often have been unwilling to train and/or hire an individual with an alternate ability because of common misconceptions about what tasks these individuals are able to perform, what their aptitude for learning is and what the costs to the organization will be.

The efforts by schools, area agencies, community colleges, vocational rehabilitation and service providers who try to help individuals find employment are often not well coordinated, leading to disappointment and failure. What has developed is a well-meaning but fragmented approach to help individuals with alternate abilities find jobs that allow them to be more independent and make substantive contributions to the community.

Everyone has dreams and aspirations, which form the basis of the career pathways they wish to pursue. Individuals with alternate abilities are no different, except that they may need a little extra help to envision how those dreams and aspirations can be fulfilled.

Individually centered plans with a long-term emphasis on skills development and exposure to different career opportunities through both internships and paid employments are essential.

Individually centered plans have the greatest success when begun in high school. Starting as early as age 14, the plan needs to include modules focused on self-advocacy, identifying natural abilities and passions, techniques on networking and the types of skills necessary to succeed. It needs to then progress into more specific modules that help define and present opportunities for different career choices geared to their personal interests and talents through job shadowing, internships, apprenticeships and community and business opportunities, which might include supported and competitive work openings as well as self-employment opportunities.

Most families of individuals with alternate abilities refer to that individual’s 21st birthday as “the cliff,” when services and supports they receive as a student disappear, and services they are eligible to receive as an adult are supposed to begin. All too often, when individuals with alternate abilities hit the “cliff” there is a disruption in the services they are receiving.

At One Sky, we believe that every individual has the ability to make a difference and that we should do everything we can to give them the greatest chance possible to not only find a job but to pursue a successful career right here in New Hampshire. A more comprehensive program includes skills assessment, training, workshops, internships and personal skills enhancements at an earlier age, while carrying life-changing support forward through the age of 21.

One component that is crucial to the success of this type of program is the education and engagement of employers to be our partners and to invest in the process we would like to build. Once businesses understand the benefits that individuals with alternate abilities bring to their organization, they will become committed to the growth and development of these dedicated individuals as valued career employees.

This collaborative effort will have a significant impact on economic development by providing a valuable new source of local talent. By increasing the level of independence that individuals with alternate abilities have, we also improve their overall quality of life and reduce the costs of providing supports to them.

If you are such a business leader and are interested in partnering with us and learning more about our initiative, please contact either of us at One Sky Community Offices, 603-436-6111.

Chris Muns is CEO of One Sky Community Services and Graham Bunce is director of One Sky Futures, both based in Portsmouth.

Categories: Opinion