COLORADO SPRINGS — One of Colorado's largest employers of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities is issuing a challenge to business owners and leaders as they look to rebound and rebuild from the COVID-19 pandemic.
President and CEO of Arc Thrift Stores Lloyd Lewis says the unemployment rate among people with disabilities is increasing with more than 80 percent unemployed. His company employs 350 people with IDD at 31 stores across the state.
"I can't say enough about the Arc Thrift Stores. Lloyd Lewis values his employees. When everything shut down, he made sure all of his employees got paid despite being furloughed. There are not that many companies that would do that, and I'm so grateful," said Mitch Routon, Arc Thrift Stores employee.
Routon has an intellectual disability and has been working at Arc Thrift Stores for two years.
"I take care of the jewelry department, collectibles, and help people out to their cars," said Routon. "I really wish there were more companies like the thrift store around the country to just give a chance to people with intellectual disabilities. They have to deal with enough in the world and we just want a fighting chance," said Routon.
He says people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are some of the hardest working people in the workforce.
"They are dedicated and quality employees. Society, I felt, has tried to keep people with disabilities down and it is wrong," said Routon.
While Arc Thrift Stores is the largest employer of people with disabilities, Lewis hopes to improve the situation by encouraging other employers to follow their example.
"I'm really urging my fellow CEOs to hire these wonderful individuals who contribute so much," said Lewis. "A lot of people with intellectual disabilities were laid off or lost their job and have not been brought back yet. These are individuals with great skills, great talents, and are great contributions to their companies. It was very unfortunate to see these losses of great employees."
As businesses work to rebound from the pandemic, he proposes businesses commit to hiring a few people with disabilities and create new programs.
"Look at some starter programs. At our company when I joined, we had ten employees with intellectual disabilities and now we have over 350 about fifteen years later. What we did was lean on the hiring program. Job coaches are available from the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and we are available to help as needed," said Lewis.
One of the challenges people with disabilities face is discrimination, and Routon hopes to see more equality moving forward.
"Don't feel bad for us, just give us more of a chance," said Routon.