One of our prime focus with research has been to elevate the quality of life for our associates. Employment gives dignity and a sense of purpose to people with disabilities, who are often marginalized and underestimated.
A research question which therefore came up was:- “How do the lives of adults with disabilities change after gainful employment?” We wanted to discover what small and big changes our employees reported in their lives, after starting to work at our Cafe and Kitchen.
We set out on this task by interviewing all of our employees. Using a questionnaire and through one-on-one interviews, we asked our employees about their background, interests, experience working in the cafe and kitchen, their hopes and dreams, and their assessment of their current quality of life.
Through these conversations we found that there was a sweeping sense of warmth and comfort associated with working at Ada’s. Our associates with disabilities reported the following as the biggest changes they personally experienced.
Higher sense of purpose — Many employees previously struggled with not having a sense of purpose in their everyday lives. Many had structured schedules, but no exciting vocational challenges. At Ada’s, associates do meaningful work which drives them to constantly improve their performance and increases engagement at work.
Sense of independence— Approaching a customer, serving them coffee and a scone, and saying a few words, gives our associates a unique sense of independence. Not only do the associates say that serving and interacting with customers makes them feel competent personally, it also makes them realize that people depend on them.
Empowerment — Handing out the right change to a customer or arranging the chairs around the cafe unsupervised are examples of activities which the employees with disabilities say make them feel empowered. And this feeling of empowerment gives them the confidence to learn new skills at work.
Being a part of a team— For most of the employees, Ada’s was the first place where they felt like a part of a team. Through training with their coworkers, a sense of collective pride and friendship has formed within the team. Working towards common goals and learning from each other, the employees feel deeply connected to one another and consider each other to be close friends.
Financial independence— One of the more prominent changes, which has had a trickle down effect in the lives of our employees, has been the ability to earn a living. Financial independence has allowed the associates to take better care of themselves. One employee was able to buy herself a mattress for the first time, and another employee was able to live by herself for the first time in her life. For others, financial independence means being able to make more holistic decisions about their lifestyles (What to eat, where to go, what to buy).
Our research indicates that significant improvement in the lives of adults with disabilities, comes from their ability to do their job well. We therefore recommend that organizations that hire or plan on hiring adults with disabilities, invest in the right training for their employees. The right training transforms into empowered employees who perform better and are able to make the most of the opportunities given to them.
Another big takeaway for us was the fact that employees who are encouraged and feel like a part of a team are more likely to be happier and engaged in their work. Overall, building a work culture which is focused on empowering and training employees, and, creates a sense of community is the best way forward for organizations which hire people with disabilities.