New Year's resolution for Illinois employers: Hire more people with disabilities and veterans

  • Janet P. Szlyk

    Janet P. Szlyk

By Janet P. Szlyk
Guest columnist

Michelle, who became paralyzed from chest to toes due to a car crash in 2002, recently earned bachelor and master's degrees from Roosevelt University. As of November 2018, the Chicago woman is now gainfully employed with ComPsych, the world's largest provider of employee assistance programs, servicing more than 45,000 organizations and 100 million individuals throughout the U.S. and 160 countries.

Megan, of Arlington Heights, who is visually impaired, impressed her supervisors with her performance and went from extern to employee at an Arlington Heights Walgreens.

Tina, of Chicago Heights, who is visually impaired, was hired this past summer at a Chicago-area Target store. Since joining the store, she has consistently received high marks for successfully carrying out all her tasks and for her exemplary customer service.

William, a veteran from Chicago who had trouble securing employment due to a lack of computer skills, received extensive training and is now flourishing as an agent with the Illinois Tollway Customer Service Center.

What do these four talented people have in common? They are among hundreds of individuals who are disabled or veterans whose lives have been dramatically changed thanks to special training they received at The Chicago Lighthouse and other similar organizations, which in turn, led to fulfilling job opportunities with companies like Target, Walgreens and others.

It's sad to say, however, that Michelle, Megan, Tina and William are more the exception than the rule when it comes to employment of people with disabilities and veterans.

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Despite bringing a variety of skills to the table, being creative and possessing a hearty work ethic, far too many individuals who are blind or disabled, as well as veterans, suffer from an unacceptably high unemployment rate and as such, are an untapped resource.

In fact, national statistics show that approximately 70 percent of individuals who are blind are unemployed. According to Census Bureau data from 2016, only 36 percent of working age individuals with disabilities were employed while over three-quarters (79 percent) of adults without disabilities had jobs. Statistics concerning the employment of Veterans are equally sobering. It is estimated that nearly 30 percent of our courageous ex-military men and women are jobless.

At The Chicago Lighthouse, we are changing that. In the past few years, we have created hundreds of good-paying jobs for members of the disabled and veteran communities by aggressively seeking out members of both groups for positions in our Customer Care Centers and in other key positions at our organization. In addition, we provide computer training, rehabilitation, counseling, resume preparation and other services to help qualify people for positions in both the public and private sectors.

We salute the efforts of Walgreens, Target, Mariano's, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Lettuce Entertain You Restaurants and others who have partnered with us and followed our lead in opening their doors to more individuals with disabilities and vets.


However, much more needs to be done. Those unemployment rates remain way too high.

With the arrival of the New Year, we want to sound a clarion call and urge more Chicago-area businesses to dedicate themselves to hiring greater numbers of members of the disabled and veteran communities.

They will come to realize how hiring these individuals will not only create a more inclusive and vibrant environment, but will help boost the bottom line.

Furthermore, statistics have shown higher retention rates for people with disabilities across the board among employers.

It is also the right thing to do.

Dr. Janet P. Szlyk is president and CEO of The Chicago Lighthouse, one of the nation's most comprehensive social service organizations assisting people who are blind, visually impaired, disabled or veterans.

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