Employment for Special Needs Individuals

Written by: Isaac He, FCSN Voices Youth Reporter
Graphic Art by Ashley Lau

“For our clients with special needs, holding a job can be a purpose already. It makes them feel like they belong.”
— FCSN Supported Employment Program Manager Claire Brady.

For most parents of children with special needs, a major worry is that their children will never be able to support themselves. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 17.9% of individuals with special needs were employed. Not only does this statistic reflect a 1.4% decline in employment from the previous year, but it also uncovers a greater issue: 4 out of 5 special needs individuals are unemployed, regardless of whether or not they are able to work. Assistance from family, the community, and the government is needed for special needs individuals to find employment. However, the rate of employment for special needs individuals is not going up, but rather going down. This can only mean that the support is insufficient, or is failing. 

Proven to promote one’s independence and wellbeing, employment is an invaluable part of life for any person to experience, especially for a special needs individual. In the workplace, employees are immersed in an environment in which they must make fast decisions on their own, thus developing an independent mindset. Employment also provides special needs individuals with a sense of purpose and belonging as well as opportunities to socialize with their co-workers and peers. 

Special needs individuals often face great difficulty when it comes to acquiring jobs. For instance, misconceptions are major hurdles that not only prevent special needs individuals from being employed but also display an inaccurate representation of the community. Special needs individuals are often associated with lacking cleanliness and being unable to learn or follow directions. An example of these misconceptions is seen in the food industry. Many incorrectly believe that special needs individuals are unhygienic, and thus not suited to a job in a restaurant, cafe, or bar. This type of belief can be extremely harmful to both employers and individuals seeking employment. Some employers also believe that hiring individuals with special needs is simply for charity. This could not be farther from the truth, as when given proper training special needs workers can meet the same expectations as their peers. 

These harmful stereotypes paint these applicants in a negative light, making recruiters less likely to accept them. As FCSN Supported Employment Program Manager Claire Brady says, “it scares employers; it deters them from hiring people with special needs.” It also discourages special needs individuals, making them believe that they are inadequate for the workplace

Everyone, including parents and employers, can help special needs individuals find employment and thrive in the workplace. For instance, parents can teach their children to develop good working habits, and encourage them to seek employment. Being open to the possibility of your child gaining independence is also something to prioritize. Another important step is to find an agency that will help your child prepare for employment. Organizations such as FCSN provide contact between special needs individuals and the government, as well as training programs and webinars that help educate your child. California’s Employment Development Department (EDD) provides training, referrals to job openings, career counseling, job search assistance and workshops, and supportive services. 

Employers have a significant responsibility when it comes to giving special needs individuals the opportunities to contribute in the workforce. First and foremost, people seeking to hire employees with special needs must recognize that these individuals have the ability to complete their job to a satisfactory degree. Employers can learn more about individuals with special needs, as most misconceptions and stigmas stem from a lack of knowledge. Employers can also look to provide internship opportunities, as most special needs individuals seeking employment are new graduates or ready to adapt to a work setting. As Brady says, “They should be open to learning about the special needs community, open to hiring… that would be a great help already.”
An example of a special needs individual overcoming all odds and expectations is Mico, FCSN’s first client. Fresh out of the Philippines and living with his mother in a new environment, Mico had no one in particular to call a friend — yet he had a resolve to help his mother pay their bills. With the goal of working at Trader Joe’s, Mico diligently worked with his job coach to learn the necessary skills for interviews and maintaining a job. Soon, after around four to five months of training, Mico landed a job at Trader Joe’s pushing carts. He even was promoted and given more responsibilities including being a cashier. Now, Mico is eligible for health benefits and a 401k — Mico achieved his mission to help his mother.

Employment is an experience that most teens and young adults experience at some point in their life. This experience is crucial in building character, developing social skills, and fostering a sense of being a valuable part of the community. Most importantly, financial independence allows people to be in control of their own lives. Individuals with special needs are no exception. However, through the arduous progress of job hunting, these individuals face multiple hurdles to overcome, whether that be misconceptions or a lack of social skills. Parents, employers, and individuals can all do their part by supporting, learning, and striving to seek employment. If all parties work together, soon more special needs individuals can thrive at work.

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