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What People Are Missing When They Share That Viral Video of an Autistic Teen Stocking Shelves

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Sometimes the news isn’t as straightforward as it’s made to seem. Ellen Stumbo, The Mighty’s parenting editor, explains what to keep in mind if you see this topic or similar stories in your newsfeed. This is The Mighty Takeaway.

Chances are you have seen the viral video 17-year-old, Jack Ryan Edwards, who is on the autism spectrum, stocking shelves at Rouses Supermarket in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In the video, store employee Jordan Taylor gives Edwards the opportunity to do so and coaches him through the process. By the end, Edwards is stocking shelves like a pro.

Editor’s note: The Mighty is only sharing a blurred image of the incident and not linking to the video to respect Edwards’ privacy, as it is unclear whether he consented to being recorded. 

Unfortunately, it took the wide reach and positive response of a viral video for the world to see Edwards’ potential. Since the video was shared on Sunday, the grocery store has offered Edwards a part-time job. While it’s great the store wants to hire him, it shouldn’t take a viral video to open opportunities for employment.

Most of the internet is focusing on Taylor, the employee. There is a GoFundMe campaign raising money to help him pay for school, which has raised over $100,000. I am thankful for people like Taylor because, unfortunately, we still have a long way to go when it comes to treating people with disabilities with dignity and respect. However, this video highlights yet another instance where the neurotypical person is touted as a “hero” for treating someone with a disability with kindness. Kindness should be the norm, and I wish videos like this focused on the more appropriate and needed narrative: People with disabilities are capable, willing, and ready to work.

The reality is people with disabilities have a higher unemployment rate than the general population.

Hiring people with disabilities makes good business sense, Mighty contributor, Kathy Bernhardt, the managing director of Tangram Business Resourcing, wrote in a post, adding:

Fortunately, several studies have shown that hiring qualified individuals with disabilities is actually very beneficial for businesses in a variety of ways. A study of Walgreens’ distribution centers by the American Society of Safety Engineers found that workers with disabilities had a turnover rate 48 percent lower than that of the non-disabled population, with medical costs 67 percent lower and time-off expenses 73 percent lower.

There is also a good chance that businesses who hire individuals with disabilities will experience a growth in their customer base, as 92 percent of consumers view companies that employ people with disabilities more favorably than those who do not. In case this isn’t enough, hiring people with disabilities has also been proven to improve corporate culture by increasing morale.

Approximately 79.4 percent of people with disabilities are unemployed as opposed to 31.4 percent of people in the general population, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics 2017 data. When people with disabilities are employed, they tend to be in low-paying occupations, the United States Department of Labor found.

I parent two children with disabilities, and although they are only 10 and 12 years old, we are already having conversations about their future. One of the main worries we have is, will they be able to get a job? I believe both of my girls will be capable of working, but I am painfully aware they are less likely to be employed. Will there be an employee willing to give them a chance? I hope so, but what if they are unable to find a job? There is a reason why many parents are helping their children with disabilities start their own businesses, it can often be a result of inaccessibility in the workforce.

So when you see videos like this, ask yourself:

  1. Has the person with the disability given consent to be videotaped and for the video to be shared publicly?
  2. Is the narrative praising the neurotypical or able-bodied person rather than focusing on the strengths of the person with a disability?
  3. What can we do to create more employment opportunities for people with disabilities?

Jobs matter and people with disabilities deserve an equal opportunity for employment.

Banner image via Facebook

Originally published: August 3, 2018
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