Chabot in Cincinnati Enquirer: Abilities shine in small businesses

Abilities shine in small businesses
By Chairman Steve Chabot (R-OH)
The Cincinnati Enquirer
August 16, 2016

Small businesses are more than just the backbone of the American economy. They are also the heart and soul of our communities in Ohio and across the nation.

As chairman of the House Small Business Committee, I have seen first-hand how small businesses are leading the way in expanding employment opportunities for Americans with intellectual or developmental disabilities and disorders.

For adults with autism, Down syndrome and other disabilities or disorders, finding sustaining employment can be a real challenge. These individuals can be overlooked when job opportunities arise, and too often they are shut out of the workplace altogether.

Yet every day we see examples of how small businesses, with their ability to adapt and accommodate, are able to provide employment opportunities to those who might not otherwise get a chance.

At a recent hearing, Terri Hogan, the owner of Contemporary Cabinetry East in Cincinnati, told our committee her personal story about hiring Mike Ames, a young man with Down syndrome and how it was, in her words, “the best business decision she ever made.”

“We need to educate others so they begin to take the 'dis' out of disabilities and replace it with ‘abilities,’" testified Hogan, noting that 62 percent of individuals with disabilities remain in the same job for three or more years, much lower than the turnover rate for individuals without disabilities.

“We also need to make small businesses aware of the huge untapped resource that is people with diverse abilities,” Hogan said. “Hiring people who are physically, genetically or cognitively diverse is not just the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do.”

She was joined by Ames when she came to Washington. It was a great pleasure to meet and talk at length with both of them in our nation’s capital about this important issue and to have the benefit of their experience.

“Mike has raised morale, brought community awareness, caused others to have broader perspectives and has developed many friends at CCE,” Hogan said.

She went on to say that Ames helped to develop a healthier "bottom line" at her business; everyone works harder because of the example he sets.

I have heard from small business owners like Hogan across Ohio and the country about how hiring employees with special needs has not only boosted morale at their businesses but also productivity.

Sadly, only 30 percent of Americans with disabilities are employed.

This fall, we will mark National Disability Employment Assistance Month, an opportunity to refocus our efforts and reaffirm our commitment to help all Americans find the dignity and purpose that comes with having a job.

This commitment is why I co-sponsored bipartisan legislation, the ABLE to Work Act, a followup to the ABLE Act that will help adults with special needs save the money they earn from work without jeopardizing their Medicaid and Social Security benefits. I will continue to urge my colleagues to pass this important measure and get it to the president’s desk as soon as possible.

Thousands of young adults who graduated in the Class of 2016 will be joining the workforce this fall. This new chapter in life can present challenges for everyone, but for those with intellectual or developmental disorders or disabilities, it is especially daunting. These men and women might face a future where the prospect of finding employment is unknown, and options for the future are limited.

Thankfully, America’s 28 million small businesses are working to expand opportunities to help individuals with disabilities enter the workforce, and grow their quality of life.