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Inclusion is Key for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities

Here’s how businesses can work together to be better.

By Todd Sanders, president and CEO, Greater Phoenix Chamber and Christopher Rodriguez, CEO, Ability360

March is Developmental Disability Awareness Month. During this time, we recognize individuals with developmental disabilities and raise awareness around the challenges they face, while also promoting inclusivity, education, and advocacy.

Developmental disability is a term used to describe a group of chronic conditions that involve cognitive or physical impairments, sometimes a combination of both. One of the biggest challenges facing those with developmental disabilities is the misconception that all disabilities are the same.  Recognizing and appreciating diversity and encouraging social inclusion, access to education, and employment opportunities is vital for a healthy community.

Valley nonprofit Ability360 is dedicated to helping people with disabilities live independently. Through free programs like the “this is MY Life program” and “Community Living Options,” individuals learn self-advocacy, self-determination, and independent living skills. Free training and resources help educate individuals on their rights in healthcare, employment, housing, and many other areas, while the sports and fitness program promotes group activities and socializing in an active setting.

Ability360 has also seen decades-long success with its peer mentoring services.  The program provides peer support both through members of its direct service staff who have disabilities and trained volunteers. Individuals are paired with a peer mentor who can use both their personal and professional experience to work toward independent living goals together.  The partnership often sparks innovation, encouragement, and a reminder that individuals with disabilities are not alone.

As diversity and inclusion become increasingly important in the workplace, the Greater Phoenix Chamber is working to increase support for businesses looking to enhance their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts. With more than 2,400 members, it is the state’s largest chamber of commerce and recently debuted an updated toolkit to help companies build or enhance their DEI programs.

The toolkit was first developed in 2019 and focuses on the four pillars of company culture, the role of employees, unconscious bias, and recruiting. It offers free resources for companies of any size, with any budget.  Employers also have access to quarterly education forums that provide opportunities to connect, learn and share ideas surrounding best practices.  The newly- expanded toolkit features updated resources and support, including inclusive language, a new section addressing allyship, a calendar of nationally recognized months and holidays, and an enhanced video library.

Having a diverse workforce brings new perspectives and ideas to your business and prioritizing it can also help attract and retain top talent.  As a community, we need to be more cognizant  of the challenges individuals with developmental disabilities face. It can be difficult to find employment, affordable housing, reliable transportation, healthcare providers, and social activities, all while facing public bias.

By working together, communities can develop more supportive and welcoming environments which will provide individuals with developmental disabilities greater opportunities to engage with the world around them and live more fulfilling lives.

In addition to Ability360, Arizona has a variety of resources available for individuals with developmental disabilities and their family members. The Division of Developmental Disabilities, The Arc and Raising Special Kids are just a few other organizations who can help.  For those who want to become self-advocates, national groups like Self Advocates Becoming Empowered and People First of Arizona are great resources.

Ability360 and the Greater Phoenix Chamber encourage Arizonans to build relationships, listen to new perspectives, encourage self-expression and get involved through volunteering. Together we can make a difference and create a more inclusive, vibrant community.