Lately, you see the signs everywhere: Help Wanted. And many of those signs not only encourage you to apply now, but promise on-the-spot interviews, high hourly wages and a new employee bonus.

You also see the impact of employers not being able to recruit the people they need – service cutbacks, shortened hours, longer wait times to speak with someone – not to mention tired and harried employees who are working extra hours to cover the gaps.

While employers may feel like they’re trying everything to attract new workers, they may be overlooking a pool of potential workers who very often become outstanding employees: individuals with disabilities.

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, a recognition that right now is timelier than ever. This year’s theme – America’s Recovery: Powered by Inclusion – says it all. As our nation works to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals with disabilities can, and should, be a vital part of making our economy strong.

If you are an employer in need of employees but have never considered including an individual with a disability on your team, perhaps it’s time you did. Knowing the facts can help with some of the most important practical considerations of hiring an individual with a disability.

Disability is generally described as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities and an individual’s ability to interact with the world around them. Depending on whose definition you use, there are anywhere between 25 million and 54 million Americans that live with some sort of disability. In Georgia, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there are approximately 2.7 million adults with a disability.

Although “people with disabilities” can seem to refer to a single population, it is actually a diverse group of people with a wide range of needs – and abilities. Two people with the same type of disability can be affected in very different ways; some disabilities may not be obvious.

The American with Disabilities Act also recognizes chronic mental illness as a disability – conditions such as major depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia and others. Like physical disabilities, serious mental illness can limit major life activities of those who are affected. But it’s important to remember that living with mental illness does not mean an individual is not intelligent, highly skilled or competent, only that he or she lives with a health condition they manage.

Toward that end, if you are looking for potential employees, especially employees who will take their jobs seriously, show up and give you their best, Highland Rivers Health can put you in touch with dozens of them.

Our Supported Employment program works to match individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities, or with chronic mental health conditions, to local employers’ needs. Once an individual is hired, our employment specialists support the individual and the employer with onsite visits, open communications with the supervisor, and ongoing skill-building.

Employers not only get a fully-supported employee, but may also be eligible for state or federal tax incentives and other benefits related to hiring an individual with a disability – and knowing they are helping individuals achieve independence in their recovery.

If you are an employer in search of employees – which seems to describe most employers these days – the Supported Employment program may be able to help. For information about potential candidates living in recovery with mental health conditions, call Highland Rivers Health at 678-567-0940. For information about candidates living with intellectual or developmental disabilities, call 706-270-5050.

Show your community you are recognizing National Disability Employment Awareness Month in the best possible way – by changing the life of an individual with a disability who is looking for a chance to be their best.

Melanie Dallas is a licensed professional counselor and CEO of Highland Rivers Health, which provides treatment and recovery services for individuals with mental illness, substance use disorders, and intellectual and developmental disabilities in the 12-county region of Northwest Georgia.

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