1. a physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities.
    synonyms: handicap, disablement, incapacity, impairment, infirmity, defect,abnormality,…

    • a disadvantage or handicap, especially one imposed or recognized by the law.
      “he had to quit his job and go on disability”  or “she can’t work because of her disability

When you think of it, the Webster definition is limiting and implies that a person is incapable of doing much of anything, let alone working for a living. It is often through this filter or lens that we see people who are labeled – Disabled. This is perplexing, since nearly 1 in 5 ( that’s 45 million) Americans has a ‘disability’. The fact is people with disabilities are ordinary individuals striving to live ordinary lives, the same as anyone. Nearly half of us even know someone with a disability, and if you know someone who is labeled such, you know they’re so much more than the challenges they face. They’re our neighbors, our friends, our co-workers, and consumers; they’re also a significant portion of the nation’s unemployed, with great and diverse untapped potential.

“No disability or dictionary out there, is capable of clearly defining who we are as a person.”– Robert M Hensel

For over 60 years, Pearl Buck Center has supported individuals with disabilities to overcome barriers and achieve their goals.  Repeatedly, we have found that a community is always stronger when there’s a place for everyone to make positive contributions. We’re leading efforts to re-think how people with disabilities can strengthen our local business community. We believe that with the right planning and supports, everyone can work. And that’s because we recognize this crucial fact:

Businesses don’t employ people for their disability; they employ them for their abilities.

The challenge is that many people with disabilities may not match a standard job description preventing businesses from accessing real talents that are worth their investment. This is where Customized Employment comes in.

What is Customized Employment? The Oregon Department of Employment Policy defines it as such;

Customized employment is a flexible process designed to personalize the employment relationship between a job candidate and an employer in a way that meets the needs of both. It is based on an individualized match between the strengths, conditions, and interests of a job candidate and the identified business needs of an employer. Customized Employment utilizes an individualized approach to employment planning and job development — one person at a time . . . one employer at a time. Customized employment will often take the form of:

  • Task reassignment: Some of the job tasks of incumbent workers are reassigned to a new employee. This reassignment allows the incumbent worker to focus on the critical functions of his/her job (i.e., primary job responsibilities) and complete more of the central work of the job. Task reassignment typically takes the form of job creation, whereby a new job description is negotiated based on current, unmet workplace needs.
  • Job carving: An existing job description is modified — containing one or more, but not all, of the tasks from the original job description.
  • Job sharing: Two or more people share the tasks and responsibilities of a job based on each other’s strengths.

‘We all customize our jobs, however, the typical job-seeker customizes after being hired and many people with significant disabilities will succeed only if the customization occurs prior to beginning work’ -Griffin Hamm

It really doesn’t take much to customize a job to fit the needs of a potential employee or the needs of an employer. Often it just takes thinking outside the box and getting creative. Perhaps even thinking how to improve a business’s bottom line, by taking some of the more mundane or simple tasks from experienced workers, freeing up their time to tackle what they are really being paid to accomplish and giving those extra bothersome or repetitive tasks to someone who is only seeking a few hours a day.

People with disabilities desire to be part of the mainstream workforce, working alongside people in their communities. When businesses hire people with disabilities, the benefit shows up on their bottom line and in improvements in the culture and the personality of their business. This is true for small businesses as well as large national corporations. In fact, it holds true for all industries – from services to manufacturing. We all share in the responsibility to move ahead – it is a journey that business, government, agencies, and families are going to need to travel together.

Employing people with disabilities is not only the right thing to do, it makes good business sense. Together, we can make a difference so that individuals with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else.

And with the prevailing winds of change, perhaps it’s time to change the definition of disability to;


1.  The inability to see ability in another being.