Employees with Developmental Disabilities: An Underutilized Population of Valuable Workers

by Michelle Haney, Guest Columnist, Rome News Tribune, October 12, 2018

ROME, Georgia – Andrew Cook is one of the most polite and hardworking young men I have ever met. This is saying a great deal, as I have worked with very charming and charismatic college students just brimming with enthusiasm for the past 18 years. Andrew is a confident young man with excellent people skills. He audited my Introduction to Psychology course several years ago. On the first day of class one lovely fall semester, Andrew proudly stood in front of my classroom door, introducing himself while offering his hand to every nervous new freshman college student that entered the classroom. Andrew sat at attention in my class, rarely missing a day of class, and insisted on participating in every aspect of the course, including taking exams for which he would receive no academic credit. My freshmen students reported to me that Andrew inspired them to try their best and overcome social anxiety, to put themselves out there and talk in class. Andrew has an intellectual disability and has overcome severe physical challenges. In fact, early in his life it was predicted by many medical professionals that he would never walk or speak. Today he is downright chatty, in a respectful and earnest way. He is finishing his second year working at State Mutual Stadium and is close to achieving his lifetime goal of getting a driver’s license.

Tom Dahn is another friend I have come to admire through the nonprofit Developing Independence, Growth, and Support, an organization that provides many different social and personal development opportunities and raises money for high quality group homes for adults with intellectual disabilities. Tom has worked at Kroger for 11 years. He has been recognized for the impressive number of shoplifters he has caught over the years. Tom also enjoys playing on the Kroger baseball team. Tom has limited verbal skills, but makes himself understood through his hard work, determination to do a good job, strong work ethic and excellent team member skills.

Let me be clear, Andrew and Tom are excellent employees. They are motivated to work, they value and enjoy their jobs and they rarely miss work.

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