Underemployment, unemployment frequent among the deaf 06

Architect and associate Ben Edwards, who is deaf, jokes with project manager James Moore as they work on a project together at FFKR Architects on Friday, Feb. 7, 2020, in Salt Lake City. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

This week I had to inform three of my coworkers that we would be closing the doors for a couple of weeks for everyone’s protections. Although I work with more than three, these particular three work at the front desk as customer services specialists and have probably been at their jobs longer than most of the people in the company.

Their response to hearing that they would not be able to work for at least two weeks was a big reminder to me about how much this job means to them for many reasons beyond receiving a check. It is also a reminder to me about how important it is to continue to spread the word about inclusion in the workplace and encourage business owners to expand their workforces to include people with all abilities.

Employing people with disabilities is not new to this column, nor do I anticipate a time that will not warrant me reiterating the value. Data continues to reflect trends toward an increase of people with disabilities in the workforce, but as I attended a recent job fair in Provo, it is evident that there is still a long way to go.

I believe that one of the biggest steps that employers could take would be to train their Human Resources and front line managers about working with the hugely untapped market of individuals who really want to work but require some level of accommodations. These types of accommodations come with little or no cost and mostly require a better level of knowledge and understanding.

Workplace diversity often includes changing a culture of inaccurate preconceptions or stereotypes about many common characteristics among people with disabilities. With training and experience, many businesses are able to create a workplace of balance that allows each employee the ability to perform their jobs in a way that is comfortable for them. I see that culture in my own workplace where differences are recognized but not allowed to interfere with relationships. This is the reason that the three employees mentioned earlier did not want to stay home during this time of quarantine. They did not want to lose the social connection with their workplace peers.

In keeping with this important topic, it is also a good time to mention the Golden Key Awards that are presented by the Utah Governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities annually. Along with the Utah Business Leadership Network, this committee has opened up nominations for local businesses that have gone above and beyond in their recruiting, hiring, retaining and promoting individuals with disabilities. It is important that when recognizing these companies they are also including retention and promotion because this is something that all of us want from our employers.

There is a “Call for Nominations” link at http://jobs.utah.gov and nominations will be accepted through May 29. Any questions or additional information can be obtained through leahlobato@utah.gov. The categories are “Business of the Year” (small, medium and large); “Ace Award” (individual or advocate); newly added “Freedom Award” (companies who hire and retain disabled veterans); “ASAP Achievement Award” (state agency with best utilization of the Alternative State Application Process) and “Provider of the Year” (going above and beyond what is expected in their regular work).

It is important to look around the various places where you do business or work for diversity. When you encounter workplace inclusion be a patient coworker or customer and help create a culture that is safe and comfortable for employees to grow and succeed.

To my three co-workers whom I know are missing coming to work, I look forward to seeing you all very soon.

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