In the early 1960s, the answer was always “No.” No, your child with autism cannot attend elementary school with the rest of the kids. No, your child who has Down syndrome is not capable of learning. No, your child will never hold a job.

Then four Seattle mothers stood up and said, “No more!” In 1965, they founded what was then called Northwest Center for the Retarded, where children with disabilities did learn to read, write and participate in the community, and where adults with disabilities did learn employment skills.

The founders of the now-renamed Northwest Center didn’t stop there. With the help of two University of Washington law interns, they wrote the law guaranteeing admission to public schools for children of all abilities in Washington state, then helped author the national law known today as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

As a parent of a child with a significant disability, I have an incredible appreciation for the work our founders invested in creating the world we have today. But I also know firsthand that people with disabilities are still told “no” far too often, and that must change. Northwest Center is committed to creating that change with programs that span from cradle through career.

Northwest Center helps employers solve critical business problems by matching job seekers’ abilities with their business needs. So why should your business embrace an inclusive workforce? Because it will help you solve problems with retention and absenteeism while improving quality, productivity and safety.

We know inclusion works for business because we walk the walk ourselves. Nearly 40% of Northwest Center’s 1,000 employees have a documented disability. Our commercial businesses compete and win not in spite of inclusion, but because of it. And we have the data to prove that for businesses nationwide, inclusion is a strategic differentiator providing a significant competitive advantage.

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Business reporter Ben Romano of The Seattle Times captured this valuable advantage when he wrote about our longtime partnership with Amazon [“Amazon finds an alternative workforce through Northwest Center, a Seattle nonprofit helping people with disabilities,” March 23, Business]. Amazon made a commitment to tap into a diverse workforce long ago, and today they are reaping the benefits of that decision.

Microsoft also is leading the charge as an inclusive employer. Neil Barnett, director of inclusive hiring and accessibility at Microsoft, says, “We believe inclusion drives innovation, and greater diversity in the workplace can enable the positive changes we need in the world. Hiring talent with disabilities is a business imperative for every company, including Microsoft.”

If you are an employer, you need to realize that inclusion works. Hiring people with disabilities is not charity, but good for your business. Here’s what I challenge you to do today:

• Evaluate your current workforce and ask yourself if it’s truly inclusive — or can you do better?

• Commit to hiring candidates with disabilities who demonstrate they have the ability to do the job.

• Don’t try to go it alone. Contact Northwest Center at nwcenter.org/inclusion and let us help you fully realize the benefits of inclusion. We connect you with talented individuals to add to your workforce, and we provide on-the-job support for your employees and managers for as long as it’s needed.

Do you have something to say?

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Four mothers from Seattle started their own inclusion revolution and changed the national education landscape for children with disabilities. More than 1,000 Washington employers — from Amazon to Microsoft to zulily — are beating their competition with inclusive work forces. Imagine the increased impact that your business can have when you help build a more inclusive world.