Running Your Business

Disability Employment: Breaking Down Barriers


  • October is both Down Syndrome Awareness Month and Disability Employment Awareness Month

  • Employees or interns with Down syndrome benefit from regular assessments and individualized training

  • Some guidelines include setting goals, providing a routine and educating your staff

Posted by October 27, 2017

The goal of disability employment is not simply to make you feel good for doing an act of service, but to hire someone who can be an asset to your business. That’s the same reason you hire all of your employees—because they are the best fit for the job.

“Individuals with Down syndrome can and do make valuable employees and are ready to work, but often lack the opportunity,” explained the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS). In honor of both Down Syndrome Awareness Month and Disability Employment Awareness Month taking place this October, here are some ideas from the NDSS’s guide to employing people with Down syndrome.

Provide Internships, Assessments and Individualized Training

Many people tend to think of internships as something that college students do, but there’s no reason you can’t provide internships for adults of all ages. Your state should offer a program specifically designed for hiring adults with disabilities as interns, starting in high school. This may be a useful place to start.

Additionally, doing individual assessments and providing individualized training and mentoring can ensure that the job and responsibilities are a good fit for your new employee or intern. According to the NDSS, “people with Down syndrome typically enjoy routine and structure, and will thrive working with a mentor who has good coaching skills.”

How to Support an Employee With Down Syndrome

NDSS provided the following guidelines for working with individuals with Down syndrome:

  • Set goals
  • Provide a routine
  • Meet regularly
  • Encourage inclusion
  • Be flexible
  • Keep an open mind
  • Educate your staff

Most employees thrive with goals and regular meetings, and of course, you should always strive to be inclusive and provide flexibility in people’s schedules and workloads. Individuals with Down syndrome tend to be very concrete in their thinking and don’t do well with abstract ideas, the NDSS noted. Thus, it won’t be as effective if you just say “finish this.” Instead, explain, “First do this, then that and when that’s completed, do this third task.”

What to Expect

“Any employer should expect the best from any employee—this should be no different for an employee with Down syndrome,” the NDSS said. “Employees with Down syndrome do not want pity or to serve as a token, but rather for the employer to have practical expectations.”

Workers with Down syndrome come with different personalities and different skill sets, just like your other employees. And, just like your other employees, you can set standards and hold them to those. Just remember, the Americans with Disabilities Act requires you to make “reasonable” accommodations for your employees with disabilities.

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