Goodwill celebrates National Disability Employment Awareness Month

  • Carly Flaws |
  • | Mission

October marks the 71st year of National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

First celebrated in 1988, NDEAM was created to bring visibility and awareness to the national programs and organizations that help workers with different abilities to learn life skills and procure jobs based on their key talents while contributing to the workforce. 

Goodwill program participant Joyce at her job with Blaze Pizza.

Goodwill of Central Iowa is proud to be one of these organizations that train those with disabilities, helping to hone their existing skills into valuable employment opportunities. October may be the month that visibility of these programs is celebrated, but the Goodwill organization runs programs such as key skills training in their retail stores and Project SEARCH, an in-store, hands-on training partnership with Hy-Vee all year long.

How does the workforce with disabilities compare to the overall workforce? According to the 2017 Disability Statistics Annual Report, 12.8% of the U.S. population is disabled. Over half (51%) of this demographic is considered working age (between 18-64 years of age). Nationally, the employment rate for able-bodied citizens was above 76% in 2016 while only 35.9% of individuals with disabilities were employed.[i]

Populations with disabilities face many barriers to finding employment. Many potential employers fail to see these individuals as an option for skilled labor due to their disability, meaning that discrimination frequently occurs even though federal law prohibits excluding workers from being considered solely on the basis of a disability. Employers and companies with this outlook miss out on the skills that differently-abled workers can provide.

Food Service Skills Training is one of four Skills Training programs offered by Goodwill of Central.

Additionally, many jobs require certain education levels or certifications for individuals to be considered for employment, and without applied skills programs available in the community, disabled workers may not be meet those requirements and their skills and contributions will continue to go underutilized. Across Iowa communities, Goodwill strives to make the public and company leaders aware of the potential and availability for employees with disabilities to work in key roles. Goodwill also provides provides programming that teach life skills, job skills, and specialized workforce training for populations in need of specialized programming.


When Iowa based companies partner with Goodwill and invest in workers who are dedicated, skilled, and excel at their jobs, the entire community benefits. Goodwill gets to see the fruits of their programming pay off for their trainees. The company gains a great employee and fills openings that may have otherwise remained vacant. The trainee polishes their skills, gains work experience, and reaps the social and economic benefits of a work family and a workplace, and gives them a daily routine filled with accomplishment.

Goodwill program participant Chris at his job with Blaze Pizza.

In fact, several studies have found that mobility/physically disabled participants in a work skills program reported gaining life skills in addition to work skills, strengthening social skills, and growing their self-confidence and self-sufficiency. These skills were reported as being strengthened not just at their work programs but also in the participants’ home lives and non-work related tasks.[ii]

Benefits of such training and employment programs aren’t just limited to the company and the employee. For members of the public, they may gain knowledge of the company’s commitments to an inclusive workplace, the programs available for the differently-abled workforce. Young members of the community who may have their own disability are able to see a role model with a normal routine who contributes to and participates in the community.


Those who are familiar with Goodwill training programs are primarily aware of the Goodwill retail store employees who  receive training specifically for their roles at those stores. These employees have completed training in order to learn how to sort donations, price items, stock shelves, cashier, and otherwise assist customers in these local Goodwill locations. All of these skills are important for the retail industry and help contribute to the larger economic structure in communities where the stores are located. Retail Skills Trainer, Marijo Grigsby shared “It is great to witness a participant’s confidence and work ethic soar as a result of our program. This is instrumental for them gaining meaningful employment in the community.”

In addition to training workers for retail sales, Goodwill also has the program known as Project SEARCH. This particular program is possible due to a partnership with Hy-Vee stores across Iowa. The participants in Project SEARCH spend a portion of each day in the classroom where they learn soft skills and training for job seeking. Then they participate in the internship portion of the training, which involves working at a Hy-Vee location with store managers and other employees in order to build hands-on applied skills.

Tammy working in the Hy Vee bakery as part of Project Search.

Over the course of the internship segment of the project, participants will work in three different departments across their Hy-Vee location in order to get a well-rounded experience and to detect where their interests and skills fit best. Hear more about trainee Tammy’s amazing experience with Project SEARCH.

Presently, the State of Iowa is experiencing the lowest unemployment rate in the nation at 2.6%. The Central Iowa counties of Story and Dallas fall even lower at 1.9% and 1.8% unemployment respectively.[iii] For companies in these areas, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find talent to fill entry-level service, retail, and other specialized jobs that require trainable skills.

Katherine Harrington, Goodwill of Central Iowa Mission Services Director shares this insight, “Individuals with disabilities are an untapped workforce resource across the country. Here in Iowa, where we are experiencing the lowest unemployment rates in the country, business owners are employing these individuals and seeing great results.” Companies should consider partnerships with Goodwill of Central Iowa to help impart applied skills and develop talent in potential future employees. Learn more about how workers with disabilities are an untapped Iowa resource.

To learn more about the training programs available for handicapable populations at Goodwill of Central Iowa, or to inquire about joining Project Search as a participating employer, contact us at marketing@dmgoodwill.org.

[ii] Sally Lindsay, Tracey Adams, Carolyn McDougall & Robyn Sanford (2012) Skill development in an employment-training program for adolescents with disabilities, Disability and Rehabilitation, 34:3, 228-237, DOI: 10.3109/09638288.2011.603015

[iii] https://www.iowaworkforcedevelopment.gov/local-area-unemployment-statistics

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