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Progressive Employment: Hiring Individuals with Special Needs

May 11, 2017 | In: Autism Resources , Why We Rock

At We Rock the Spectrum, the philosophy of full inclusion resonates throughout every aspect of our business — from our gyms across the world to our corporate offices. Our mission is to ensure that everyone feels welcomed and accepted. This is why progressive employment is an important part of our company. We emphasize to all our gym owners the importance of hiring individuals with special needs.

“We Rock the Spectrum only starts in the gym,” says CEO and Founder Dina Kimmel, “it then goes onto progressive employment, to donating swings to different countries for children in need, and further on. When we interview potential franchise candidates, we let them know that they must be on board with creating positions for adults with special needs — whether it’s volunteer or employment.

The unemployment rate for workers with disabilities is two times that of neurotypical and able-bodied workers. Not only does this further the marginalization of individuals with special needs, but it puts businesses at a disadvantage by not tapping into this resource of highly qualified, hard-working individuals. The lack of employment opportunities is rooted in a stigmatization that special needs adults are non-intelligent, and are hard to work with. We know that this is simply not the case. Special needs individuals are misunderstood and through progressive employment, we can help turn that around.

We Rock the Spectrum has been lucky to see many great team members come to our gym. Among them is a young woman named Nicole. Nicole suffers from autism as well as fragile x syndrome. When Nicole first entered into the gym’s volunteer program, our team had to work closely with her because it was difficult for her to make eye contact with adults. Despite that, the children were drawn to her. After a while, her magnetic personality shone through and she grew into herself more and more. In her volunteer position, she immediately forged a bond with a boy name Jacob, who has Down syndrome. Their connection was undeniable. Working with Jacob, Nicole was able to work past the challenges that she faced when she first began working at the gym.

“Over the course of the past three years, Nicole went from being a volunteer to working the gym by herself, to being the best sales person, to so much more,” recounts Dina Kimmel.

Nicole now lives alone and works one-on-one with Jacob and one other child with cerebral palsy.

Nicole (far left) with a few We Rock the Spectrum Gym owners in Southern

Xavier Alfonso is another rockstar whom we’ve been blessed to have. A few years ago, a gentleman came into We Rock the Spectrum in Tarzana, California and said that he had a son on the spectrum named Xavier. He asked whether or not the gym had any volunteer positions that Xavier could fill. Xavier was very outgoing and very verbal, almost to a fault. He suffered from a lack of spatial awareness, so it was unsure whether the parents and children would accept him. However, in the past year and a half that he’s been working at the gym, he’s proven to be amazing with the children. He’s been one of the most punctual employees on the team, the hardest working, eager to please and do well, and has grown immensely as an individual. Today, Xavier is in college, taking classes with neurotypical students.

Xavier at his graduation. 

One of Xavier’s biggest moments happened last year when he sat down with We Rock the Spectrum CEO and Founder Dina Kimmel and asked to be promoted from a volunteer to a paid employee. Having seen the growth and ability to take on more responsibility, Dina agreed. It was an immensely proud moment for both Dina and Xavier’s father to see Xavier take on such initiative and confidence. Today, Xavier still makes himself available to work during our camp programs, and even reaches out to other local gyms to help them as well.

What we see in Xavier’s story is that employees with special needs are incredible assets to any business. They will continue to grow and rise above your expectations time after time — they just need to be given a chance. Our experience with both Xavier and Nicole reflects the experiences of many businesses who hire individual with special needs. A survey of employers by the Institute for Corporate Productivity found that more than 75% of employers rank their special needs employees favorably on aspects such as work quality, motivation, integration with co-workers, and attendance. Additionally, the company culture shifts in a positive direction with special needs individuals on board—company morale improves and there becomes a culture of acceptance and inclusiveness. Plus, studies indicate that 93% of customers said they would prefer to buy from a company that hires employees who have special needs.

“As an autism mom, I started We Rock the Spectrum for my son.” says Dina Kimmel. “My work in progressive employment is so that when he and other children like him grow up, they have a future and the same opportunities as everyone else. Our kids can do anything and this work is to help ensure that they have a chance.”