Aspire works with adults who have many different disabilities — such as autism, those who use a wheelchair, and adults with learning disabilities — to develop several important work skills that can be used in different industries. Aspire CEO Jim Kales says it’s a positive step toward improving the job environment for disabled adults.
“While Aspire aims to lower the disability unemployment rate and include people with disabilities into our workforces, we never approach employers out of a sense of ‘obligation’ or moral duty,” Kales writes in an email. “We view each of our employer partnerships as a win for all parties.”
Through two ventures — the Career Academy and CoffeeWorks — adults with disabilities learn sustainable job skills and use them to support others with disabilities around the world.
But how do they do it?
In Aspire’s Career Academy, students are able to dive into their personal career interests while gaining important workforce training. The students receive hands-on training from experts skilled at working with people with a variety of disabilities. To keep services effective, the Career Academy focuses on six career areas that have historically been particularly beneficial for students and graduates.
“We’ve identified six specific sectors that adults with disabilities have statistically excelled in and train participants in those tracks: warehousing and distribution, big-box retail, office and IT, culinary, hospitality, and fitness center administration,” Kales says of the program structure.
Their strategy is working in the favor of the students they serve. More than 90% of academy graduates are employed full-time.
Some of them end up at CoffeeWorks — an Aspire-led organization that employs people with developmental disabilities. In addition, 100% of the net proceeds supports kids and adults with disabilities. In essence, they’re breaking down stereotypes and barriers one coffee bean at a time.
“We decided to explore opportunities in the coffee industry because, in essence, coffee brings people together, and that’s what our mission is all about — inclusion for people with disabilities,” Kales writes.
To be an outsider looking through the purview of stereotypes, the success rate might be surprising. But according the Kales, it’s exactly what they expected. Numerous reports show that adults with disabilities often excel in many fields, particularly those with creative or repetitive tasks.
“Hiring people with disabilities makes good business sense — 87% of Americans say they prefer to patronize businesses that hire people with disabilities,” Kales writes. “Additionally, hiring people with disabilities helps companies increase their retention rates, saving them the time and cost accrued with employee turnover, as people with disabilities have higher than average retention rates and are proven to be dependable and loyal in their roles.”
For many of the students and employees, the work is empowering, valuable, and important for positive life trajectories.
With real employment opportunities, adults living with disabilities are able to have a more equitable chance to engage with the economy and participate in common societal practices. Society is noticing how awesome it is too.
“[We’re] seeing a wave of interest from employers seeking to hire people with developmental disabilities,” Kales writes. “Twenty-one companies (including several Fortune 500’s) have reached out to us in the past six months to start their disability hiring journey.”
It’s clear that giving everyone a fair chance at employment opportunities is a win-win for all.
“It comes back to Aspire’s fundamental belief that when we include people of all abilities into our communities, everyone is better for it,” Kales adds. “We believe that when people with disabilities are included into our workforces, companies and communities prosper.”