RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - October is Disability Employment Awareness Month, a time when advocates hope people recognize the issues people with disabilities face when seeking employment while also celebrating their various contributions to the workforce.
According to the Department of Labor, in the United States, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities was 9.2 percent in 2017, that’s more than twice that of those with no disabilities.
Jared Burns, 20, of Chesterfield, was part of that statistic until someone took a chance on him. Tammy Burns, Jared’s mom, said he was hired by Gold’s Gym at Westchester Commons in August of 2017.
“We started interviewing everywhere, we put in applications and interviewed and interviewed and lots of lots of shut doors.” Tammy Burns said.
Tammy Burns said so many doors were closed in their faces, she didn’t think Jared would ever find employment.
“Sometimes people would say we can’t hire someone who comes with job support,” Tammy Burns said. “Sometimes people were saying well, we just don’t think we have an opening.”
That’s until Jared interviewed at Gold’s Gym where he’s been working for 14 months.
“It’s the best job!” Jared Burns said.
Jared Burns helps with custodial work, cleaning the mats and gym equipment and vacuuming the floor. Greg Smith, the General Manager at the gym said Burns is a fantastic employee with extreme passion and commitment.
“It’s great to give the differently-abled opportunities to come in and show they are capable of,” Smith said.
According to Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services, not enough businesses feel the same way.
The current employment rate in the state for people with disabilities is only 39%, higher than the national average but still, not high enough.
Dale Batten, the director of division of rehabilitative services said, “You need to look at a person with a disability, the same way you look at anyone who walks through your door for employment.”
DARS works to assist employers in identifying qualified individuals with disabilities for their workforce and provide guidance on possible accommodations needed.