For many corporate leaders, adapting to an increasingly diverse and competitive labor market is a natural step in becoming a successful organization. In recent years, accomplishing this feat has required a lasting commitment to fostering a more equitable and inclusive workplace environment for all members of the team. However, despite sweeping efforts to create a sense of belonging for individuals from underrepresented groups, one population remains largely absent from the conversation: people with disabilities.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for those with a disability is twice as a high as the rate for those without a disability. This inequality results from many invisible barriers that individuals with disabilities face on their journey to acquire meaningful employment.

For instance, a lack of knowledge surrounding the job search process can be a huge obstacle for people with disabilities. Without an understanding of the ins and outs of resumes, interviews, and online job search networks, it can be extremely difficult for these folks to even get a foot in the door. Apart from that, the list of barriers goes on and on including a lack of transportation, inaccessible workplace environments, fear of negative judgement, unconscious bias in the hiring process, the person’s disability itself, or even differences in communication.

Considering these challenges, Lanakila Disability Services has created several programs designed to lower the barriers to employment for aspiring individuals with disabilities. With an individualized approach, Lanakila Disability Services helps folks with disabilities by providing access to workshops, skills training, and even job coaching. One such program is the Summer Youth Paid Work Experience Program. This program connects high school students with local employers to offer them hands-on, real-world experience in a job – not in spite of their differences, but including their differences. The program collaborates with several local businesses and organizations such as the Bishop Museum, Party City, and Hawaiian Pie Company, to name a few. To gain a better understanding of the program’s impact, we sat down with some of these businesses to learn about their experiences with the program.

“To start off, why did you participate in our program?”  

Bishop Museum: We are always open to building and maintaining relationships with other organizations in the community.

“What were your goals? Did you achieve them?”

Bishop Museum: We wanted to give individuals with disabilities the opportunity to gain work experience and enhance their skills by doing things such as interacting with guests and staff, or taking part in the many activities and events that we have here at the Bishop Museum. Yes, we did achieve our goals! As a matter of fact, we’ve hired one of the individuals who joined this program, and he’s proved to be one the most reliable staff on my team!

“Describe your experience working with individuals with disabilities.”

Bishop Museum: Working with individuals who have disabilities has given the museum’s front of house staff the opportunity to understand and learn how to best support these individuals for success. I’ve experienced seeing individuals get out of their comfort zones and personally enjoyed being able to work alongside them and take part in helping them grow along the way. 

“Finally, would you participate again?”

Bishop Museum: We would love to participate again! We love being able to give people the opportunity to gain job experience. Furthermore, we also love to give people the chance to learn about the culture and history of Hawai’i. 

Without a doubt, the Summer Youth Paid Work Experience is a program that provides mutual benefits for both the participant and the business alike. Not only do our students benefit from receiving on the job training, but also local businesses are able to support our community while gaining a better understanding of how to encourage individuals with disabilities in the workplace. Through the collaborative efforts of Lanakila Disability Services and these outstanding business partners, our students have and will continue to overcome the barriers to employment and reach new heights of success in their career development.