We are committed to working with the local business community to increase employment opportunities and develop training initiatives for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Share story

Seattle is filled with trailblazers, noisemakers and policy changers. We are seen as leaders in diversity and inclusion, innovators and advocates for the less fortunate. Yes, we are applauded for our work on behalf of the environment, celebrated for our protection of human rights, and commended for our vision of uninhibited access to education. Yet despite these collective altruistic pursuits, there is an entire community where we are stuck somewhere between speech and action, forcing thousands to live on the sidelines.

With the legacy of the Special Olympics USA Games fresh in mind, we are reminded of the importance of celebrating inclusion, acceptance and participation. We have an opportunity to use the momentum of last week’s Summer Games as a springboard for renewed commitment to the tens of thousands of individuals with intellectual, developmental and behavioral disabilities in our community.

Society isolates people with disabilities. We sort out children with developmental disabilities such as autism, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome, and decide early on what they can and can’t participate in. Skills that most others acquire through traditional schooling, forming friendships and first jobs are limited. With fewer opportunities to gain both practical and social skills, it’s no surprise that many youth and adults with these disabilities are unequipped to fully participate in everyday society. Studies show the employment rate for working-age adults with any type of disability is just 34 percent. For people with cognitive disabilities, it falls to 24 percent. But unemployment is a symptom of a larger challenge — being invited to belong and being included.

Without a personal tie, most people generally misunderstand those with disabilities. We know that developing a real relationship with someone with a developmental disability is the only way to change expectations and diminish low expectations of stigma. Creating a generational and societal shift is hard. All of us must learn (or relearn) what we think we know about these types of disabilities.

Earlier this year, the Welcome Inclusion Initiative (WIN) launched across the Puget Sound region. It is a grass-roots effort which thus far includes more than 200 local businesses, organizations and community leaders who have embraced inclusion and are working together to welcome people with intellectual differences.

This is more than creating a “day” or a week when people with disabilities are welcomed. It’s about making that commitment 365 days a year — inviting people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities to live, learn, work and play in their neighborhoods and local businesses.

Thanks to our steadily growing WIN business community, we see what this commitment can look like and the impact it can have.

Early WIN adopters include local business leaders such as Microsoft, the Woodland Park Zoo, MOD Pizza, Tutta Bella, and organizations like the Girl Scouts of Western Washington, the Chief Seattle Council of Boy Scouts of America and Boys & Girls Clubs.

Collectively, we are committed to working with the local business community, employment providers, and practitioners to set goals and tangible action plans to increase employment opportunities, develop training initiatives, and create truly inclusive community spaces for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

This summer, we celebrated athletes, coaches and families from across the country. We now have an opportunity to set a new standard for belonging right here in our local community. The time is now to remove barriers and include people with intellectual, behavioral and developmental disabilities to make Seattle a welcoming place for all. We invite more local leaders to join us in the WIN initiative to affect lasting change in meaningful employment and real community membership for not just some but all of our fellow citizens.