To the Editor:

Throughout October, Goodwill of North Georgia joins the country in commemorating National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) and promoting this year’s theme, “The Right Talent, Right Now.”

For 94 years, Goodwill of North Georgia has worked tirelessly to support job seekers with disabilities and specialized circumstances through placement, training and employment efforts. By the end of 2019, we will have helped connect more than 25,000 north Georgians to jobs.

Goodwill of North Georgia hires people with disabilities because it makes good business sense and makes families and communities stronger. Some of our top performers happen to be people with disabilities. Within our agency, 8% of our employees identify as people with disabilities, and we continue to strive toward an agency goal of at least 12%. Goodwill of North Georgia is also adept at connecting disabled jobseekers with businesses seeking workers. Over the past 3 years, we’ve served more than 5,000 people with disabilities.

Goodwill of North Georgia’s efforts in serving those with disabilities include workforce development programs which offer progressive training methods to prepare them for competitive employment. Services include an evaluation of work-related skills, retention services, vocational evaluations, and job placement efforts specifically for people with disabilities.

Alex Balla is an excellent example of the type of person we serve. As a teenager, Balla moved to the U.S. with his family. Coming from Romania, he did not speak English and was born with a serious disease called paraparesis that significantly impairs his mobility. In 2007, after finding no luck in the job market for several months, Alex was referred to Goodwill of North Georgia’s Workforce Development Program by a friend. Alex worked in several of our stores, gaining valuable experience.

Today, Alex Balla is a master-degreed U.S. citizen, serving as a case manager at Goodwill’s Oakwood Career Center. He now spends his time helping others reach their career goals, bringing his entire experience with Goodwill full circle. Balla frequently gives back to Goodwill and his community, including visiting Capitol Hill in 2018 to meet with members of Congress and their staffs. His story proves that workers with disabilities not only make good employees, but they are even better leaders. 

The annual commemoration of NDEAM began in 1945 as the return of WWII soldiers sparked interest in the needs of people with disabilities in the workplace. Forty-five years later, in July 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law. As the most comprehensive disability rights legislation ever passed, the ADA prohibits discrimination in hiring, advancement and termination, and mandates equal access to workers’ compensation, job training and other privileges of employment.

Despite these efforts, the employment rates for Americans with disabilities continue to lag. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities was 8% in 2018, while the rate for workers without a disability was 3.7%. Employed persons with a disability were also more likely to be employed part-time or be self-employed as opposed to full-time.

The metro Atlanta area is not exempt from the alarming national unemployment rate for workers with disabilities and continues to face its own struggles with increasing workplace diversity and inclusion.

A recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution article titled, “Atlanta is known as a ‘Black Mecca.’ Jobs data tell a different story,” highlights how difficult life can be for marginalized groups in metro-Atlanta As companies across Georgia are working to find top talent, we must reconsider our methods for building the best workforce. Increasing diversity and inclusion in the workplace will lead to more productive and efficient work environments across the country. 

We truly believe that inclusion drives innovation, and that inclusive workplaces are better workplaces. Please join us as we recognize National Disability Employment Awareness Month and support Goodwill of North Georgia’s mission to promote access to gainful employment for all Americans.

Keith T. Parker
Goodwill of North Georgia