March -National Developmental Disabilities Month
Thirty Years After National Developmental Disabilities Month Established, Employment Opportunities are Still Lacking for Disabled Individuals. Dog Treat Company Offers Opportunities
Poughkeepsie, NY – In 1987, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed March to be considered National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. As part of his speech, President Reagan spoke of the importance of providing employment opportunities for people with disabilities stating, “One important new milestone is the fruitful partnership between government and the private sector in finding productive employment for people with developmental disabilities, people who might otherwise have been destined to a lifetime of dependency.” Although society has made gigantic strides towards better supporting individuals with disabilities, thirty years after Reagan’s speech, employment opportunities for this population are sorely lacking. Good Reasons Dog Treats is trying to change that.
Good Reasons is a Hudson Valley, NY-based company that employs an integrated work force. People with and without disabilities work side by side to produce all natural, human grade dog treats. Although the company officially launched in 2014, its founder, Vicki Sylvester, Ph. D., has a thirty-year long history of fierce advocacy for people with disabilities. Sylvester is the CEO of Community Based Services (CBS), a Westchester, NY based organization that provides individualized care to disabled people throughout the Hudson Valley, including training and seeking out employment opportunities.
Sylvester believes that an inclusive work place benefits not only the employee, but the workforce and community at large as well. In her experience, workers with disabilities tend to be appreciative of the opportunity to work. Many companies that hire workers with disabilities find that their new employees are motivated to perform well and thus more enthusiastic and productive. Sylvester believes that as long as the workplace is flexible, it is no different than hiring any body else.
“All new employees, regardless of ability, come with their own set of challenges and needs. It really is no different than hiring anyone else,” says Sylvester. “We try to focus on what they can do instead of what they can’t do.”
The production crew at Good Reasons has recently seen an increase in activity as over 30 various retail store locations have begun to sell the treats. The work crew packs up to 600 bags of treats per day. Jon B., one of Good Reasons’ workers, certainly doesn’t mind. As he playfully jokes, “[my job] keeps me out of trouble!”
With the projected growth, Sylvester hopes to be able to employ 15 – 20 new full time workers in the near future. She has witnessed firsthand the sense of meaning and purpose that having a job brings to individuals with disabilities and hopes that other companies will follow suit to create more opportunities for disabled people to reach their full potential.
“Let’s not call our workers individuals with developmental disabilities, let’s just call them ‘people,’ says Sylvester. “Like the rest of us people, our employees want a job to earn money, to achieve a sense of self-worth and to meet new challenges and new people.”