Katie and Carolyn have worked at Merrimack Hall for two years. When a business hires a person with special needs, they gain so much more than just an employee. Here are some things that business owners might not know about hiring people with special needs:
- most people with special needs would be happy with a part-time job, not full-time
- in some cases, people with special needs can be paid less than minimum wage; in all cases, they would much prefer to have some income rather than no income
- job coaches are available to help train and supervise people with special needs, if your business is not able to do this
- organizations like The Phoenix Corporation can come into your business and identify ways you could create meaningful jobs for people with special needs
There are many intangible benefits to having people with special needs on your payroll, such as the diversity and unique perspective they can bring to the workplace. Here are two examples of how Katie has had a positive impact on me at work:
Katie wears an insulin pump and each day after lunch, she pricks her finger, calls her mother to report the number on her pump and adjusts her insulin dosage. Without fail, once she receives her insulin, Katie goes into the lobby to sing a song. It doesn’t matter what’s going on in the lobby…it probably wouldn’t matter if the building was on fire. Nothing interrupts what we’ve affectionately come to call Katie’s “Sugar Song.” For about 20 minutes, she sings at the top of her lungs about anything and everything, but most often, the Sugar Song is about herself. Her songs have no set rhythm or rhyme and typical lyrics might be:
I so beautiful.
I so happy.
I love my cat.
I a princess.
I wear pink.
I the best worker.
I decided to try a Sugar Song for myself a few weeks ago. I was tense, worried about a grant deadline and acting a bit testy. So, I grabbed a Snickers bar from the concession stand and after I ate it, I sang – at the top of my lungs. I don’t know if anyone heard me or not but, like Katie, I decided I didn’t care. My lyrics, sung to the tune of “You Are My Sunshine” were:
I am amazing.
I’m so amazing.
I’ll get this grant cause I’m the best.
My mission is the
My grant will blow away the rest.
And it worked! I felt less anxious when I finished my Sugar Song. And low and behold, last week I got an email notifying me that I had indeed received the grant – a $10,000 grant to establish a leadership development program for our volunteers. Sugar Songs are going to become a regular part of my day from now on.
The second example happened a few months ago. Katie was eating lunch by herself in our kitchen and I was on a frantic search for something – don’t remember what. I darted past the kitchen table about 5 times, going into people’s offices, out the back door and in again, up to the lobby and back. Each time I passed the table, Katie offered me a different greeting.
Hi, Boss Lady!
You look cute, Debra!
I responded with appropriate comments but never slowed down until finally, Katie stood up from her chair and said:
Hey! Slow down!
Of course, I obeyed. Then Katie said:
Why you hurry so much? You think you too important.
Well, that put me in my place. Why was I hurrying? Katie never hurries or rushes and neither should I. When I’m on some self-important mission, I’m not doing anything but stressing myself out – and probably stressing out those around me at the same time. Katie was right…I’m just not that important and neither is anything I have to do that requires me to hurry so much that I can’t stop and engage in a polite conversation with my teammate. Thanks to Katie, I’m going to slow down…and sing a song every now and then.
If you’re interested in hiring someone with special needs, I’d love to hear from you! I would be happy to connect you with resources to facilitate the hiring of someone with special needs. I can also recommend any of the dozens of adults in my program who would be thrilled to have a part-time job and who would bring enormous benefit to your business.