MCALLEN, Texas (KVEO) — There are ongoing efforts in the Rio Grande Valley to close the employment rate gap between individuals with disabilities and those without. Through its new “We Hire Ability” program, the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) is looking to close that gap by recognizing employers committed to creating a diverse and inclusive workforce by hiring individuals with disabilities.
Sixty-one million — about one in four – adults in the U.S. have a disability according to the CDC. In Texas, just about 40% of working-age individuals (from the ages of 16 to 64) with a disability are employed.
“Some of the individuals have acquired disabilities throughout their lifetime, so if you’re not a member of that club you could be a member of that club sometime in your lifetime,” Lisa Givens, vocational rehabilitation communications strategist said.
The commission provides all kinds of employment services, including counselors to help those with disabilities gain career training.
“Individuals with disabilities are no different,” she said. “They have career goals, desires, dreams; they just need to be given a chance.”
She said people often don’t hire those with disabilities simply due to a lack of awareness. However, creating a more inclusive environment makes everyone feel more accepted at work.
Melinda Palinsky, workforce alliance specialist adds individuals with disabilities often bring unique skills to the table that another job applicant may not.
“They have really become amazing problem solvers in their daily lives,” Palinski said. “In their independent living, they sometimes have to learn how to navigate the world a little differently and how to access the things we might take for granted. I think those are transferrable skills employers really recognize.”
Representatives with the Lower Rio and Cameron County Workforce solutions said they encourage employers to hire people with disabilities. Their offices also provide counselors to connect these individuals with career training and the right job for them.
“There are thousands of jobs available here in the RGV, and we want to work with employers to let them know their average job applicant isn’t always someone who is able-bodied,” Mike Gonzales, Workforce Solutions Lower Rio communications specialist said. “There are individuals with disabilities who can fulfill these positions and do them just as well, if not better in some instances.”
“There’s nothing different from them, they just have a small disability and need some small accommodations and can practically do anything we do,” Sally Perez, Workforce Solutions Cameron County chief program officer said.
Anyone looking to improve the inclusivity of their workforce is encouraged to reach out to their local workforce solutions office for guidance. Businesses in the RGV currently employing members of this population include McDonald’s, Kumori, Lacks, Cinemark, H-E-B, and Wingstop.
For the “We Hire Ability” recognition, at least 10% of a business’s workforce must have a disability; employers can self-nominate. The portal will remain open through the end of September.
TWC is also gearing up for its Summer Earn and Learn program, in which they partner with local school districts to provide students with disabilities with paid work experience and readiness training.