Could Disabled Workers Be Your Best Employees?
Arc of Westchester is helping to integrate disabled teens and adults into the workforce, giving them meaningful employment. And employers are reaping the benefits, too.
Joseph Frank at work at ABB Optical in Elmsford.
Photos courtesy Arc of Westchester
In 2016, Joseph Frank got a part-time job working at ABB Optical in Elmsford. He started by cleaning lenses, and then scanning and entering lens information into a database. His co-worker, Grant Dawson, engraves corrective lenses. This is a process that requires a careful eye for detail and the ability to work with two engraving machines simultaneously. Their efficiency and dedication to their work caught the eye of their employer and earned them full-time employment in 2017.
Both got their start at ABB Optical through Arc of Westchester, the county’s largest agency supporting children, teens and adults with intellectual and development disabilities. Headquartered in Hawthorne, it has a particular focus on placing program participants into the workforce by matching them with appropriate employment.
“The people we support are reliable and consistent employees,” explains Tibi Guzmán, who became Associate Executive Director/CEO of Arc of Westchester in 2014. “Attendance is usually higher than the typical employee. Their accuracy and accomplishments many times supersede the typical employee.
“Some employers assume people with disabilities are not capable or talented [enough to] follow multi-step processes, comprehend direction, and be an asset to the organization,” adds Guzmán of the possible reticence from companies to hiring people with disabilities. Arc of Westchester aims to correct that misinformation and strives to place its participants in employment that they enjoy. Hiring people with disabilities adds to “the diversity of the workforce and genuine feeling of an inclusive environment,” she adds. That attitude starts within Arc of Westchester, where people with disabilities are employed in various departments, including reception, facilities and marketing.
Arc of Westchester’s employment program has partnered with over 250 local businesses, employing almost 300 program participants. Arc participants are employed in a wide scope of Westchester business, tailored to their skills and preference — sectors like food and retail, healthcare and hospitals, government and universities. And against a 33 percent average nationwide, Arc of Westchester managed to maintain a 60 percent employment rate for its participants in 2016, with the average term of employment lasting five years.
What’s behind the success? “We match an individual with an employer in a job that fits his or her personal preferences and skill set,” explains Guzmán. Arc’s involvement for its clients operates on a sliding scale. It can provide support as needed once job training commences, or it can operate on a much more involved level. “We gain an understanding of each employer’s unique workplace dynamics and match the skillset and interests from our candidates.”
Vince Monaghan, Digital Eye Lab Vice President of Manufacturing at ABB Optical, first came into contact with Arc of Westchester after being inspired by his cousin.
“My cousin had special needs and held a job which she loved and took great pride in,” Monaghan says. “I asked [my wife] if she knew how we could go about placing those with intellectual and developmental disabilities in our lab. She recommended that I contact the Adult Resource Center in our area, and that’s how we got to know the Arc of Westchester team.”
“Once the organization became familiar with our work environment,” says Scott Pearl, Digital Eye Lab Managing Director, “they created and supported the process of introducing and placing new team members with our company.”
“Our goal,” Guzmán says, “is to set an example for all businesses to have a diversified workforce.”