Tight job market presents opportunities to workers with cognitive or behavioral disabilities

Filling job openings can be a full-time job for many employers these days.

It’s estimated two available positions exist for every person looking for a job.

Those numbers are now creating opportunities for people with development or behavioral disabilities to gain employment.

Sarah Barrett has a job stocking shelves at Polkadog in Jamaica Plain. “I like to be really organized. I don’t know what it is, but if there’s something messed up, I have to fix it.”

Barrett is a student at the Ivy Street School in Brookline which specializes in educating neurodivergent young people.

Job opportunities for people with cognitive or behavioral disabilities have been historically few and far between.

“There’s a real sort of sadness when you think about it, when we’re sort of operationalizing a world that doesn’t include everyone who exists in it,” said Brandon Cardet-Hernandez, the Ivy Street School’s executive director.

The robust economy is changing that. President Biden recently said, “In March, the unemployment rate fell to 3.6%, down from 6.4% when I took office 15 months ago.”

Numbers like those are forcing employers to be more creative and more open to who they’ll hire.

Kevin Merriam, a regional manager at Polkadog, thinks Barrett is a great worker and helps him make his staff more efficient. “I can benefit from having someone a day a week with us. It gives us an

extra set of hands and it frees up my other team members to be able to do something else.”

“I think we’re all thinking differently around equity and access and opportunity. I think that’s sort of a silver lining of this pandemic,” added Cardet-Hernandez.

He’s hoping this door to opportunity will stay open permanently. “It’s the perfect time to sort of marry the opportunity and the opportunity gap that has existed for so many folks for so long.”

Merriam thinks hiring a worker like Barrett has been a win-win for Polkadog. “I think what you get back in the situation is invaluable. You have a great worker on your team . . . and in return, they’re getting real life experience that might not have been afforded to them elsewhere.”

Last summer, Governor Baker signed a provision in the state budget called “The Disability Employment Tax Credit.” Employers can get a $5,000 tax credit for hiring a person with a disability if that person works for a full year.

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