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CNBC's The Profit

When was the last time you worked with someone who had a developmental disability?

Most of us haven't. Some employers have an implicit assumption that people with those disabilities can't work. But those same employers are being proved wrong by a small but growing workforce that just needed opportunities.


Image by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Businesses that hire people with developmental disabilities are saying it's a great business decision.

Among them are organizations like Smile Farms in Garden City, New York. They put people with disabilities to work in local agriculture, doing everything from farming to sales.

Workers at Smile Farms in Garden City have jobs that benefit their entire community. Image via Smile Farms, Inc./YouTube.

There's also Hugs Café, a Dallas area restaurant that provides cooking classes and dignified jobs for special-needs workers.

Workers at Hugs Café in McKinney, Texas, receive cooking lessons as part of their job training. Image via Hugs Café/YouTube.

People with disabilities are also starting to find jobs at big companies like Walgreens. The company's plan is to fill at least a quarter of their positions with disabled workers.

Since they prioritized hiring disabled workers in their distribution centers, they've seen rises in productivity and safety. At the same time, they've had drops in absenteeism and turnover.

Photo by Phillip Pessar/Flickr.

And a 2014 report by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (I4CP), a research group that "discovers the people practices that drive high performance," found that among 200 companies surveyed, employers rated workers with disabilities as "good to very good" on indicators including dependability, motivation, adaptability, integration with coworkers, and quality of work.

When we drill down to the statistics, it's clear that employers need to do a lot more.

In 2015, 25 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed, the employment situation for disabled adults leaves plenty to be desired.

The last census counted 1.2 million working-age people in the U.S. with intellectual disabilities. According to I4CP, 85% of them don't have paying jobs.

That's a lot of folks being denied a fair chance to earn a living and to enjoy the independence and sense of purpose that comes with having a job.

But change is starting to seem inevitable for developmentally disabled workers.

There aren't many workers' causes that draw the kind of diverse (and powerful) support this one is receiving.

Nick Shepis, a worker at Smile Farms, takes a moment from watering seedlings to share a smile. Image via HooplaHa/YouTube.

Proponents of disability employment include business leaders, the National Governors Association, millions of people in the disabled community, and their non-disabled allies. They want employers to hire based on people's abilities, not their disabilities.

This year's National Disability Employment Awareness Month just came to a close. With all of these signs, I'm hopeful that by next year's we'll have more reasons to celebrate.

Watch a video from Smile Farms and see the business in action:

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