Closing the Employment Gap for People with Developmental Disabilities


Entering the workforce is hard for all of us: the interview process can be daunting, and learning new tasks and adapting to new environments is often stressful. For people with developmental disabilities, it can be even more challenging.

“People with disabilities want to work, because working is the way that people are involved in their communities. They have more meaningful relationships, they have a better sense of personal freedom, and they’re more independent,” says Mia Joshi, The Foundling’s Education and Employment Services Coordinator. But while the general employment rate is 70%, only 30% of adults with developmental disabilities are actively employed.

People with disabilities make up the largest minority group in the nation, yet they are underemployed because of barriers beyond their control. This community often lacks access to targeted and specialized job resources and training, making it difficult to learn the ‘soft’ skills that are often overlooked by traditional employment programs. It can also be difficult to find accommodating employers, placing them at a disadvantage in the job hunt. Additionally, nearly 25% of adults with developmental disabilities report not having anyone in their life to talk to about their goals, and this lack of mentorship and guidance can further impede long-term success.

In The Foundling’s Employment Services program, our dedicated staff address these challenges head-on.  Participants are matched with a Job Coach who trains them in workplace skills and abilities– this often includes broader instruction in communicating, following directions, and more. The Foundling partners with a number of organizations and employers to place participants in meaningful volunteer work to gain experience, and to ultimately match them with fulfilling and competitively-paid job opportunities. Once they start working, participants receive long-term support to ensure that they continue to be successful.

Sophia M.

Sophia volunteering at the New York Botanical Garden

Sophia, who is working on pre-vocational skills training with Employment Services, has made great strides in her path toward independence as a result of the program. The Foundling has set her up with volunteer opportunities, such as working at the New York Botanical Garden, that have given her the chance to grow.

“I learned to listen to instructions to do things the right way…They are helping us to learn and gain employment. I used to get more frustrated but now I can communicate with people better,” she says.

Now, Sophia is learning to type and is finessing her communication skills, all in preparation for paid employment – and is excited about her professional future ahead.


Lowell at his new job

Lowell, another one of our Employment Services participants, recently took his first step into the working world. Since 2018, he has worked hard with our team to learn skills and prepare for employment. This summer, those efforts paid off!

Through The Foundling’s partnership with the Consortium for Customized Employment, which works to create a network of organizations and employers to expand work options for people with developmental disabilities, Lowell was able to find a job that fit with his skillset and aspirations.  He is now a Shake Shack team member, and is enjoying the autonomy, responsibility, and purpose that being part of the workforce brings.

This National Disability Employment Awareness Month, learn more about our Employment Services program in the video below:

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