ELIZABETH, NJ - Each day Sharon Bravo and Chavia Crute travel from their homes in Elizabeth to Irvington High School to work in the cafeteria, helping to prepare and serve meals and clean the kitchen afterward. According to Krystal Tanneer, food service director for Whitsons School Nutrition, which operates the school’s food services, Bravo and Crute are two of her best and most reliable employees.
As persons with developmental disabilities, Bravo and Crute are excellent examples of why people with disabilities who are employed are celebrated during National Disability Employment Awareness Month, which is October.
“They’re two of our best employees,” Tanner said. “They’re very reliable and hardworking and extremely pleasant.”
Added Melika Coles, kitchen location manager, “I don’t have to tell Sharon what to do. She knows what task to do and when to move on. Chavia is like my right-hand person.”
Bravo and Crute both say they love their jobs.
“I’m a people person and I like to be treated like other people like to be treated,” Crute said.
“I like working with the people here,” she said. “I really enjoy them.”
Bravo and Crute got their jobs with Whitsons through the Employment Services Department at Community Access Unlimited (CAU), where they are members. CAU is a Union County-based, statewide nonprofit that strives to integrate people with disabilities and at-risk youth into the general community through comprehensive supports.
CAU provides members with career planning, prevocational training and supported employment services, according to Sandra Lynch, CAU’s assistant executive director of employment services. The agency also works closely with employers who partner with CAU to ensure the member and the job are a good fit, she said. Job coaches also regularly visit the members at work to make sure they and their employers are happy.
In addition, CAU recently expanded its efforts helping high school students with disabilities transition to a successful adult life with access to integrated competitive employment through grants from the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services and the Kessler Foundation, Lynch added.
Tanner could not be more pleased with the partnership with CAU, she said.
“Whitsons is an equal opportunity employer,” she said. “We feel people with disabilities have something valuable to offer. After our first year partnering with Community Access, we had good experiences with the agency and their members so it encouraged us to continue.”
More than 70 CAU members are employed, with service time ranging from one to more than 30 years, according to Lynch. In addition to Whitsons, employment partners include NJ Transit, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, ShopRite, McDonald’s, Stop & Shop, Walmart, Target, Marshall's, the Swan Motel, the Humane Society and Wendy's.
More than 18.6 million Americans with disabilities aged 16-64 are employed. Yet while the unemployment rate for people without disabilities in 2018 was 3.7 percent, that of people with disabilities was 8.0 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics.
Lynch believes businesses that do not employ people with disabilities are missing out on quality workers.
Studies show that employees with disabilities are absent less frequently than those without disabilities and are more likely to stay at their job. A study by The Chicago Lighthouse focusing on workers in a local call center found employees with a disability had a retention rate nearly twice as long as those without a disability. In addition, employees with disabilities are less likely to get work-related injuries because they tend to be more aware of safety issues than those without disabilities, research shows.
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 human resources and recruitment firm Brazen, diverse workforces result in better decision-making and improved customer service.
Finally, businesses that employ people with disabilities may qualify for a number of tax incentives, including the Disabled Access Credit, Barrier Removal Tax Deduction and Work Opportunity Tax Credit.
"At a time when businesses are having trouble filling open positions due to very low unemployment, people with disabilities offer employers a wonderful opportunity to gain reliable workers who are happy to be employed and are dedicated to their jobs," Lynch said. "Nine times out of 10 they will be the best employees they ever had.”
Local businesses that would like to learn more about working with CAU to hire people with disabilities should contact Lynch at 908.354.3040, ext. 4589, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can learn more about CAU, visit www.caunj.org or follow the agency on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.