Non-profit Able SC plans to teach Spartanburg employers how to harness the potential of one of South Carolina’s largely untapped talent pools: people with disabilities.
“People with disabilities are very good at problem solving; they offer another perspective,” said Kimberly Tissot, executive director of Able SC. “You also have someone naturally in your business that can help you make sure that your company is fully inclusive. Having that perspective from them can help ensure that you have access to all customer bases. The rate of callouts is also less as well, and there is less turnover with an employee with a disability. They are usually more devoted to a company.”
The event, one of about twenty throughout the state each year, will brief attendees on recruiting disabled talent and tax break incentives, among other issues, on March 25 from 9 to 10:30 p.m. at Spartanburg’s S.C. Vocational Rehabilitation office. A representative of Able SC will offer insight on the procedures and benefits of hiring people with disabilities from his own experience as a disabled professional.
The event stems from Able SC and the S.C. Disability Employment Coalition’s Hire Me SC campaign, which advocates for the employment of young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Hire Me SC initiates on-site consulting and business-to-business networking opportunities for employers of this talent pool. The campaign also informs those with disabilities about their “right to work,” said Tissot.
The campaign was launched after South Carolina received a 2016 federal grant intended to help integrate people with disabilities into the workplace.
According to a 2019 South Carolina employment study (pdf), the unemployment rate for the state’s disabled population ranks the sixth highest in the nation, with 7 of 10 disabled individuals unemployed. Of those that are employed, at least 2,900 earn less than $1 per hour.
Employees in training can make less than minimum wage under a 1938 state fair labor law, according to the study.
“A lot of organizations, like some of the DSN (Disabilities and Special Needs) boards, have a 14 (c) certificate where they will contract with these large businesses and have people with disabilities to actually do the work,” Tissot said. “In return, the person with a disability will get less than minimum wage, and sometimes, what less than minimum wage will look like is 25 cents an hour. I’ve seen paychecks for 40 hours a week of less than $5.”
Able SC is tracking an S.C. House bill, known as the “Employment First Initiative Act,” that would enforce wages equal or above the state minimum wage. The bill, prefiled on Dec. 19, has been referred to the House committee on labor, commerce and industry.
Locally, Tissot noted that Michelin, BlueCross and BlueShield, Verizon, Walgreens and Goodwill’s Upstate and Midlands locations have helped spearhead the hiring of disabled employees above minimum wage but she said work needs to be done to bring up those wages across the state.