Give Michigan’s disabled a chance to work

Mike Zelley and Rick Keyes

For the past two years, Gov. Rick Snyder has hosted the Michigan Business to Business Summit on Disability Employment, events that foster opportunities for individuals who may otherwise face barriers securing employment for various reasons. The summits were tremendously successful with an estimated 400 Michigan businesses in attendance, and resulting in job opportunities at those participating businesses for more than 1,000 individuals with disabilities.

This is all about talent. Snyder presented the business case for hiring qualified workers with disabilities at the summits. Speakers from Walgreens, Meijer and Trijicon testified that their employees with disabilities are more dependable, take less time off and have a higher safety record than co-workers without disabilities. “This is not about charity,” Walgreens Supply Chain Senior Vice President Randy Lewis said. “Everyone is held to the same performance standards and pay scale.”

For Michigan businesses, the availability of talent is remarkable. Michigan has more than 500,000 working age individuals with disabilities who are currently not working. Of those, 43 percent have a college education or degree.

A statewide study by Disability Network Michigan showed 80 percent of individuals with disabilities not currently working, want to work.

What is wrong with this picture? We have talent available to Michigan businesses, and people are ultimately better off working as it instills a sense of pride, value and independence.

Snyder is taking action by creating an environment where businesses can access the talent of all Michigan citizens. More than 95 percent of summit attendees stated that they will improve their hiring practices to take advantage of this huge pool of untapped, talented and motivated workers in Michigan who deserve opportunities to be successful in the workplace. Snyder is providing business specialists through the Michigan Rehabilitation Services Department to provide immediate support to businesses to help make it easier to hire individuals with disabilities.

We encourage all Michigan business leaders, from the boardroom to the backroom, to respond to the compelling business case for hiring qualified, talented and educated individuals with disabilities, who simply need a chance to showcase their skills.

Mike Zelley is president of The Disability Network and a past chair of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission.

Rick Keyes is executive vice president for supply chain and manufacturing for Meijer.