Learning differences are often reported to be assets in the corporate world. In fact, three out of five of American entrepreneurs have dyslexia. Some of the most famous and successful CEOs, including business mogul Sir Richard Branson, Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad, and JetBlue founder David Neeleman all have ADHD.
Here at the Forman School in Litchfield, we are dedicated to promoting the inherent talents of our student body, which is comprised of students with learning differences. We are mindful of the need to develop the students’ skills that will help them succeed in the workforce. A lot of our students are, and will be, ground-breaking entrepreneurs, innovative thinkers, and social activists. Any list of 21st century job requirements includes good communication skills and the ability to collaborate. Often, our students possess these soft skills in spades because they are compensating for their challenges. They think “I’m not that good at quietly reading or studying. But I am really good at communicating and working with others.” At Forman, we are committed to preparing the future workers of Connecticut, and the rest of America and beyond, with all the skills required to succeed both in life and in the workplace.October marks the annual celebration of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). This month is a chance to celebrate job seekers with disabilities who are striving to work and employers who are recruiting talented employees with disabilities. The theme for NDEAM 2019 is “The Right Talent, Right Now.” Indeed, employment matters for people with disabilities for more than just financial reasons. Employment matters because people with disabilities are seeking the opportunity to achieve independence, just like anyone else.

The great state of Connecticut has good reason to celebrate NDEAM this year. Connecticut is outperforming other bigger states like California, New York and Texas when it comes to jobs for the one in five Americans living with a disclosed disability. In a recent study, 76,096 Connecticut residents with disabilities had jobs, putting Connecticut’s disability employment rate at 40.2 percent. A recent ranking by RespectAbility, a nonpartisan disability inclusion organization, found that Connecticut ranks 21st out of the 50 states in terms of disability employment.

Connecticut needs to fully implement an Employment First strategy where critical social programs for youth and adults with disabilities are oriented toward ensuring that getting a job is a top priority for individuals with disabilities. That goal is reinforced with high expectations among the teachers, coaches and parents around that individual.

Connecticut can further capitalize on past successes by following the example of states that show constant improvement such as Florida and Ohio. Both can attribute a portion of their growth in disability employment to Project SEARCH, a program for young adults with disabilities to improve their skills, learn from job coaches and ultimately find a job. Data shows that 70 percent of SEARCH interns who complete their training obtain competitive employment. By expanding such critical programs, Connecticut can increase the number of people with disabilities entering the workforce.

Companies that embrace employees with disabilities clearly see the results in their bottom line. According to Accenture, disability-inclusive companies have higher productivity levels and lower staff turnover rates, are twice as likely to outperform their peers in shareholder returns and create larger returns on investment.

The fact is that disability is part of the human experience. It is nothing to fear because most of us will be affected by it eventually, whether by accident, aging or illness. Opening up more job opportunities throughout Connecticut to people with disabilities will mean stronger communities and a better economy for all. Achieving this goal requires all of us in Connecticut to work together because people with disabilities are the right talent, right now.

Adam Man, M.Ed., is The Forman School’s Head of School, and has served in this role since 2008. He lives with his family on Forman’s campus in Litchfield.

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