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Diagnosed: Employing People With Disabilities

The Crepery storefront
JoLynne Lyon
Center for Persons with Disabilities

We’ve heard a lot about the booming economy, and it’s true the employment rate has risen, for both people with and without disabilities. 

Still, the employment gap—that’s the difference in employment rates between typical employees and those with disabilities—is still wider than it was in 2008, when the Great Recession began, according to a study from the University of New Hampshire.

Where does Utah fit in all of this? We rank third in the nation for employment rates among people with disabilities, according to the same study.  Today, as part of the UPR original series Diagnosed, JoLynne Lyon speaks to an employer and a service provider. They have different jobs, but they both want employees with disabilities to thrive—and the companies that hire them to succeed, too.

We’re at The Crepery in Logan, where Chelsey Monaco is a manager. She works with two employees with disabilities.

“They do everything I tell them,” she said. “They work really hard.”

If she has any advice for people who work with disabilities, it’s this:

“Basically, you treat them the same. I guess I would say to not baby them. I feel like sometimes we naturally we want to do that. I think that maybe at one point I was like that but I think just to know that they really are the same.”

Credit Center for Persons with Disabilities
Center for Persons with Disabilities
Tricia Jones-Parkin is an employment and community integration program manager

Tricia Jones-Parkin has been placing people with disabilities in employment since 2005. She’s talked to a lot of employers and employees, and she’s learned what makes their relationships work. Tricia now works for the Center for Persons with Disabilities’ Salt Lake City location. 

“It’s often a cost-effective way to improve work flow and reduce waste,” she said.

Sometimes there’s been an approach of charity, or it’s the right thing to do, and not necessarily looking at what the employer’s needs are and matching that with the job seeker. So when that happens, oftentimes those are the first positions to go.

“Employers want people who can do the job," Tricia said. "They need to treat this like any other business decision… Really that job match and goodness of fit is really important, and we’ve not always been the greatest at connecting people that have barriers to employment to the right kinds of work, understanding that a person with disabilities is just like anybody else, in terms of preferences, skills, talents and trying to find where those pieces connect.”

There might be a learning curve on both sides. 

“Tyrus is really sweet and we’ve all gotten to be really good friends with him,” Chelsey said, the manager at The Crepery. “He was deaf when he was born, so he didn’t really gain a lot of talking skills so he can’t talk very well, but now that we know him he will talk with us and we know what he’s saying. I feel like it’s really awesome to have progressed to know him, and to know him personally.”

“In every setting, whether you have a visible disability or not, there are people that struggle with fitting in,” Tricia said. “When you work with people that have those different kinds of abilities or ways that they go about doing things, you become a better collaborator because you’ve had to problem solve in a different way.”

But what happens if an employee with a disability struggles in a job?

“In a situation where I didn’t know necessarily know what to do, there’s not always a specific disability approach,” she said. “It’s like, what would I do with anyone else in this situation. 

“I’ve spent most of my time working in behalf of people who experience intellectual disabilities. The folks that I’ve worked with have oftentimes presented multiple barriers. What I have seen is that once people get those labels, that that’s where they get stuck.

“Mark Gold is a brilliant person who really did a lot of work with folks as they were coming out of institutions early on in the disability movement and his coined phrase is try another way. And I have certainly used that advice and gone back to that. You can get stuck and you don’t always figure it out for every person, but I believe we owe it to people to try.”

Support for Diagnosed has been provided in part by our members and Intermountain Healthcare, a Utah-based not-for-profit system of 23 hospitals, 170 clinics, a Medical Group with close to 2,300 employed physicians and advanced practice clinicians, a health plans group under the name SelectHealth, and other medical services. Details found here.