ELIZABETH, NJ--October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, an annual celebration of both people with disabilities who work and those businesses and organization that employ them. More than 18 million Americans with disabilities are employed today, contributing to their employer's productivity and profits while paying taxes and supporting the economy as consumers.

Locally, the nonprofit Community Access Unlimited (CAU) has a robust program for preparing its members with disabilities for employment, then connecting them with businesses looking to employ them, according to Joanne Oppelt, assistant executive director of business development at the agency.

CAU operates an Employment and Day Habilitation Services Department that assists those members who wish to work, comprising pre-placement services, including training in interviewing skills, work dress and on-the-job behavior; liaison support; on-the-job coaching; and follow-up to ensure both the member and the employer are happy, according to Oppelt.

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"We're always serving as the advocate for both the member and the employer," she said.

CAU member Sharon Mohry has been employed at ShopRite for more than 20 years, working six hours a day one or two days a week. She started in maintenance and today restocks returns and helps fill orders that come in online for either pick-up or delivery. Mohry loves her job.

"I like the people," she said. "My supervisor, Laura, is very good to me. We're pals. I like what I do and I really like getting paid. You work hard for your money."

Laura Augustine, ShopRite From Home Manager in Clark, said Mohry is an excellent employee.

"She's the best," she said. "She does everything we ask and more. She's always here and always pleasant."

CAU member Chavia Crute is a food service worker for Witsons Culinary Group at Irvington High School, working Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. She has been with Witsons for about one year.

"I love my job," Crute said. "The people I work with are very friendly and I love working with kids."

Krystal Tanner, food services director at Witsons, is thrilled with Crute's performance and the way she interacts with the adults and teenagers at the school.

"She's very consistent and reliable and she has an extremely welcoming and soothing personality," she said. "She also has good attendance and is very punctual."

More than 50 CAU members are employed at local businesses in Union County, in areas including retail, maintenance, clerical, culinary, security and animal care, according to Oppelt. In addition to ShopRite and Witsons, businesses employing CAU members include Sam's Club, Target, Marshall's, the Swan Motel, the Humane Society and CAU itself (8 percent of CAU's 1,200 employees are people with disabilities).

U.S. businesses are becoming increasingly open to hiring and accommodating people with disabilities, according to the 2017 Disability Equality Index, a survey jointly conducted by the U.S. Business Leadership Network and the American Association of People with Disabilities. Research shows there are a number of significant benefits for businesses employing people with disabilities.

Studies show employees with disabilities are absent less frequently than those without disabilities and are more likely to stay at their job, according to Oppelt. That translates into savings, as the cost to a business of refilling a high-turnover, low-paying position (earning less than $30,000 per year, for example) is 16 percent of the annual salary, or $3,328 for a $10 per hour retail employee, according to Zane Benefits.

Employees with disabilities are less likely to get work-related injuries. A study by DuPont found workers with disabilities performed significantly higher than those without disabilities in the area of safety, according to the Michigan Community Service Commission.

Employing people with disabilities increases a company's diversity, which has been documented to benefit businesses in such areas as enhanced customer service and improved return on investment and sales. According to HR and recruitment firm Brazen, diverse workforces result in better decision-making and improved customer service while a 2015 study by Deloitte showed that diverse companies had 2.3 times higher cash flow per employee over a three-year period than did non-diverse companies.

Businesses that employ people with disabilities also may qualify for a number of tax incentives, including the Disabled Access Credit, Barrier Removal Tax Deduction and Work Opportunity Tax Credit.

A study conducted by the Institute for Corporate Productivity stated, "More than three-quarters of employers surveyed ranked their employees with intellectual and developmental disabilities as good or very good on work quality, motivation, engagement, integration with co-workers, dependability and attendance. Many employers reported being initially leery of hiring people with IDD, only to see their concerns dissolve after the employees were on board."

Businesses seeking to learn more about the benefits of hiring people with disabilities and how to go about doing so should visit the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion at www.askearn.org. Those interested in working specifically with CAU may call Fredia McKinnie at 908.354.3040, ext. 4645, or email her at fmckinnie@caunj.org. 

CAU is a statewide Elizabeth-based nonprofit providing support programs and services to adults with disabilities as well as youth served under the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to enable them to live independently in the community, providing supports in areas including housing, vocational skills and life-skills training, education, advocacy and recreation.

About Community Access Unlimited

Community Access Unlimited (CAU), celebrating its 38 year in 2017, supports people with special needs in achieving real lives in the community. CAU provides support and gives voice to adults and youth who traditionally have little support and no voice in society. CAU helps people with housing, life skills, employment, money management, socialization and civic activities. CAU also supports opportunities for advocacy through training in assertiveness, decision-making and civil right. CAU currently serves more than 6,000 individuals and families, with the number served growing each year. For more information about CAU and its services, contact us by phone at 908.354.3040, online at www.caunj.org or by mail at 80 West Grand Street, Elizabeth, NJ 07202.