For LifeSkills Vice President of Marketing and Communication Kristi Mattison, it’s easy to see that most people all want the same thing.
“We all want the right to have meaningful lives and for many of us that’s a job,” Mattison said. “For individuals with developmental disabilities, it’s no different.”
Mattison and her colleagues at LifeSkills were busy promoting that message in October, which was National Disabilities Employment Awareness Month. One of the core missions of the non-profit organization is to place individuals with developmental disabilities in jobs by providing them with work and life skills training, job coaching and placement services, and ongoing support.
In this effort, LifeSkills has placed approximately 900 people with development disabilities in jobs throughout the St. Louis area, including Paige Hall, who is an assistant site support person at MetLife. Her duties include tasks such as making coffee, delivering mail and document filing as well as helping managers with any number of requests.
“Most people know when I’m not here, they notice,” she said.
It’s a job Hall said she has really come to enjoy since she started at MetLife last year. She likes everyone she works with, is proud to be part of the company and hopes it sends a message to other businesses.
“Companies need to know that a disable person can do anything a regular person can do,” Hall said. “They may need a little bit more help or guidance or explaining, but they can do the job just like anyone else can.”
Part of the Team
Jenny Ablan, Hall's supervisor at MetLife, said Hall has contributed beyond the company’s expectations. In addition to being good at her job, Ablan said Hall's sweet, outgoing personality has made her one of MetLife’s more popular employees.
“We had a surprise birthday party this year and the room was packed with people. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a turnout,” she said.
The decision to hire Hall stemmed from MetLife’s desire to reflect the diversity in its workforce that it sees in its clients. In addition to insurance, the company also has teams of financial advisors who often work with families that have members who have a developmental disability or some other special need.
“So we decided that it was very important for us as an organization that if we were going to talk the talk we wanted to walk the walk,” Ablan said.
It’s a decision that’s made a huge impact on Hall's life, who said the job gives her the ability to “wake up and support myself.”
A Growing Issue
However, there are still many indvidiuals who have not shared Hall's success. Mattison said the unemployment rate for people with a developmental disability is 70 percent, far above the national average of around 8 percent.
“There are many who do want to work, it’s just getting the opportunities for them,” she said.
“Developmental disability” itself is a broad category that includes speech impidements, physical limitation, autism, cerebral palsey and downs syndrome, according to Mattison. There are also many negative stereotypes that often don’t matchup with the reality.
“People think that someone may have an intellectual disability if they have a developmental disability, but that’s not always the case,” she said. “There are individuals in our program who have master’s degrees.”
For more information about National Disability Employment Awarness Month, visit the U.S. Department of Labor's website and to learn about how your business can strengthen and diverse its work force, check out LifeSkills employment services.