Ready, Willing & Able

As an advocate for individuals with disabilities, I’m sure I’m not the only one who cheered Gov. Tom Ridge this past week as he spoke about the benefits that disabled individuals can offer to the business community on the Fox Business News network.

Chairman of the National Organization on Disability, Gov. Ridge called on businesses to “tap into the talents people with disabilities offer”, noting that there are 24 million productive working-age Americans with disabilities seeking employment.

“If you hire an employee [with a disability, you’ll retain] a loyal employee with less absenteeism, great productivity, and good safety records,” he said in a statement. “So we say to corporate America, if you want to fill vacancies in the future, hire Americans with disabilities.”

What a powerful statement. And one that Aunt Laurie’s can certainly attest to. We work with close to 20 organizations, all of whom employee disabled individuals who make many of the products we sell in our gift baskets. From homemade dog biscuits and biscotti to handmade aromatic candles, soaps and dishes, these individuals have shown that disability does not mean inability.

I have been continually impressed by the productivity and accomplishments of individuals with disabilities from all walks of life, not to mention their ability to learn and acquire new skills, as I’ve seen from those at the South Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation Department who weave, assemble and package our themed gift baskets.

The British actress Emma Thompson once said, “Being disabled should not mean being disqualified from having access to every aspect of life.” I think it’s safe to say that working – being employed, or making a contribution to society – is one of the biggest aspects of life.

These disabled individuals are ready, willing and able to enter the workforce. The question is: are the rest of us ready, willing and able to welcome them?