For the second year, business owners and professionals from around the region gathered to learn about building inclusive work forces.
Organizers said the goal of Thursday’s AccessAbility Business Summit was to educate employers on how they can hire workers with developmental and physical disabilities.
Paul DiBello, Central Workforce Development equal opportunity officer, said 70 percent of working-age people without disabilities are employed. Only 33 percent of people with disabilities are employed, DiBello said.
Elizabeth Perkins, director of community rehabilitation programs for vocational rehabilitation, said each disability and job is unique and people often require individualized forms of assistance.
In general, companies can help people with disabilities by having quiet work environments and making their buildings handicap-accessible and by adopting screen-reading technology that helps visually impaired people, Perkins and DiBello said.
“It’s not as difficult and as scary as it might sound,” Perkins said. “We have a huge talent pool in Central Missouri that are very capable of working and that can be excellent employees; we just need employers to be receptive and understanding.”
Last year, about 50 people attended the first event at Providence Bank. Perkins said about 60 came this year.
The event moved to St. Mary’s Hospital this year after Dawn Sweazea, St. Mary’s talent acquisition leader, helped organize the event. Sweazea said St. Mary’s has a partnership with Jefferson City High School that gives juniors and seniors a chance to work in the hospital’s facilities and helps the hospital recruit employees with disabilities.
Jefferson City resident Elijah Mayfield, 22, has a form of Down syndrome, but he does not let it slow him down. Mayfield got his first job at the hospital. Today, he works for St. Mary’s Hospital and Paddy Malone’s Pub, and he worked for former Gov. Jay Nixon. Earlier this year, Gov. Eric Greitens appointed Mayfield to the Governor’s Council on Disability, a board he will serve on until October 2021.
Elijah Mayfield’s father, Todd Mayfield, told the group people with disabilities can play important roles in their organizations.
“I just encourage everyone to be creative and think outside the box,” Todd Mayfield told the crowd. “Show everybody that people with special needs can contribute to society.”
Elijah Mayfield said everyone around Jefferson City feels supportive, and he tells his friends with disabilities to talk to people at St. Mary’s Hospital and around the Missouri State Capitol.
“I encourage kids with disabilities like me to be out there, to get a job,” Elijah Mayfield said.
He buses tables at Paddy Malones and performs house-cleaning tasks for St. Mary’s.
College programs for people with developmental disabilities exist in Warrensburg and at Washington University in St. Louis, Todd Mayfield said. His son would love to attend college, he said, but they’d like to see a similar program closer to home.
“It would be hard for him to go away,” Todd Mayfield said. “If there was something here, we’d definitely consider it because I think it would be great to revisit simple life skills.”