The Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services (MDRS) has kicked off the 78th annual National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
Every October, the MDRS aims to bring awareness to businesses located across the state about incentives that are offered when handicapped individuals are hired and employed in Mississippi.
MDRS Executive Director Chris Howard explained during an interview on The Gallo Show that the agency continuously works with individuals with a wide array of disabilities in the Magnolia State.
“When people think of disabilities, generally you think of someone who is maybe blind, deaf, in a wheelchair, has a prosthetic,” Howard said. “In our agency, the term ‘disability’ is more. You’re talking about intellectual disabilities, you’re talking about of course physical disabilities, but we’re are also talking about ADHD, we’re talking about anxiety, PTSD, dyslexia.”
According to Howard, the MDRS serves thousands of Mississippi residents looking for a place to work through numerous programs that are funded on federal and state levels each year.
“We serve about 15 to 16,000 through our vocational programs, serve about 4,000 through our special disability programs. That’s where we are helping people stay at home as opposed to a nursing home,” Howard explained. “Then the people who apply for disability, we do disability determinations for social security, and that ranges from 50 to 80,000 depending on the year and the people who apply.”
Howard continued, stating that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has released results showing a higher rate of retention and growth at companies that choose to hire a diverse group of employees.
“The work we do is individualized, it’s for the person, but it’s geared towards the business too,” Howard said. “The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that a company that diversifies their workforce and hires people with disabilities, they see a 90 percent increase in their retention rate and a 72 percent increase in growth activity.”
Reports from the BLS also show that the number of disabled people who are employed across the nation has risen within the past few years, with the overall rate of unemployment rate for those with a disability declining to 7.6 percent in 2022.
“As an agency across the entire state, we love to show what people with disabilities can do and how loyal they are to the workplace,” Howard added. “We like to say it’s a win-win-win. It’s a win for us, it’s a win for the client, and it’s a win for the business.”