BY ELISABETH ANDREWS
Hiring employees with disabilities can be a great boost to your business, says Bitta DeWees, director of community employment for Stone Belt Arc, a local service provider for people with disabilities and their families. Through Stone Belt’s Community Employment program, DeWees and her team connect employers with qualified job candidates and provide support for employees hired through the program.
“We consider ourselves an incredible resource to employers,” says DeWees. She explains that not only does Stone Belt prescreen applicants to ensure they meet the job requirements but it also provides supplemental training for new employees and continues to coach and assist them as needed. “I’ve had a number of employers say they wish they had this type of support for all their employees,” DeWees says.
Job seekers working with Stone Belt possess a wide range of skills and aptitudes. Some have disabilities that are strictly physical, such as requiring the use of a wheelchair. Others have cognitive impairments or developmental disabilities. Some candidates exhibit limitations in their social skills but have high-level intellectual capabilities.
“Our focus is on our clients’ abilities, rather than their disabilities, so that we can place people according to their skill sets,” DeWees says. “In some cases, we’ll help arrange minor accommodations, like a checklist. But it is interesting to see how often employers find that checklist universally helpful and start using it for everybody.”
There are other benefits to hiring employees with disabilities, such as high rates of retention (the program’s average is five years) and federal tax breaks through the Work Opportunity Tax Credit. Stone Belt also provides free business assessments to help employers determine what needs could be filled by Community Employment candidates. More than 100 Bloomington-area employers have taken advantage of the program’s services, from national chains like Sears and Lowe’s to locally owned businesses including Bloomington Hardware, Iron Pit Gym, and Upland Brewing Company. Indiana University and the city of Bloomington have also hired Stone Belt clients in a wide range of departments and positions.
“Bloomington is an amazing community in terms of its receptiveness to this type of program,” DeWees says. “We rarely run into hesitation.”
For more information or to schedule a consultation, visit Stone Belt’s website or contact the Community Employment program by calling 335-3507.