Teens with disabilities experience success with PROMISE project

Teens with disabilities have experienced success with the Arkansas PROMISE project, which is designed to benefit teens with disabilities, their employers, and their families and to encourage more industries and businesses to join the PROMISE initiative.

PROMISE helps employers by paying for the teens’ work. The program also offers further support with the local Arkansas Workforce offices. It provides connectors and job coaches, guaranteeing that both the teens and their employers’ needs are fulfilled.

“This year, 556 PROMISE youth are scheduled to go to work in June,” Philip Adams, project director, said. “More local employers are needed to provide a summer job for these youth, who are between 14 and 18 years of age. Research indicates what businesses involved in PROMISE discovered in 2015: With the right initial support, employees with disabilities have been shown to have less turnover, fewer accidents, lower lost-day averages, and more appreciation for their work than those employees without disabilities.”

The project currently receives $35.7 million from federal fund grants. In the summer of 2015, a total of 278 teens joined with PROMISE to work with local employers located throughout 25 different counties in Arkansas.

“In decades past, I think one of the obstacles in outreach to potential employers may very well have been the approach used by some in the field of rehabilitation,” Brent Thomas Williams, an associate professor of rehabilitation education and research and the principal investigator of the project, said. “Often a minimizing and normalizing approach was used in which the employer was assured that, through accommodations and strategic placement, barriers to employment would be minimized; and, as such, the person with a disability would function more or less normally.”

That approach is misguided, Williams said.

"What accommodations and strategic placement don’t do is erase disability," he said. "I think it is very disingenuous to imply that hiring people with disabilities won’t have an impact on the businesses that hire them. It most definitely will."

To help employers, PROMISE has produced a series of videos. “What these PROMISE videos show is that the impact is a profoundly positive one,” Williams said. “In these videos, we see that people with disabilities can in fact do competitive work and that, quite the opposite of having no impact, their presence has a positive impact for the businesses that hire them.”

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University of Arkansas

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