Creating job opportunities for those with disabilities

Finding a job is tough these days, but facing hurdles to gaining employment is nothing new for one segment of the workforce.

Even before the pandemic, workers with intellectual or developmental disabilities were only about half as likely to have a job as someone in the general population.

It’s easy to find beer, coffee, ice and gas at the Mobil Mart in Pembroke. What patrons don’t see is any litter.

John Burgess is in constant motion keep the place clean.

“I go in, do the pumps, wipe the pumps down. I do the trash. I sweep the grounds.”

Burgess has worked at the Mobil Mart for more than 25 years, which is owned by Verc Enterprises. More than 20% of their workers at their three dozen gas stations and car washes have an intellectual or developmental disability.

“They’re all a valuable part of our team. They have responsibilities, and we rely on them, and it’s just a good way to give back to the community,” said Michael Vercollone.

State Representative Josh Cutler of Pembroke chaired a committee which just released a report looking into how more job opportunities could be created for people with disabilities. “People with disabilities are significantly underrepresented in the workforce, so there’s a talent pool that just wasn’t being tapped into.”

The report contains 11 recommendations: improving transportation options for workers, including expanding ride share opportunities; creating tax credits for employers; and increasing the state’s use of services and products from companies that demonstrate a commitment to hiring diverse workers, for example.

Cutler says the idea is to help everyone in the state. “We have to find ways to take care of folks and that can result in costs to the state. It’s in all of our interests, not just from a good-hearted point of view, but from an economic point of view, to try and create as many opportunities as we can.”

Vercollone says his company’s approach makes good business sense, reducing turnover for example. “They feel proud after they accomplish everything they set out to accomplish on a daily basis, and they stick around for a long period of time.”

Customers constantly tell Vercollone they love what the company is doing.

It’s also an approach that can change a life.

“It makes me feel good, it does,” said Burgess.

Cutler said that in the course of the committee’s hearings, it was clear some employers were nervous about hiring workers with disabilities, fearful about integrating them into their workforce or concerned about how customers might react. He hopes this report raises awareness and helps put any stigmas to rest.