COLUMBUS, Ohio — Those with intellectual or developmental disabilities are an underutilized population of potential employees with proven success.
Thirteen years ago, Ian Freece bet on himself despite his disability. He is the machine behind the Flag Lady flag shop. He used to walk by the shop all the time as a kid, but one day, he walked in and ask for a job. He wanted more independence and thought he’d take a chance
“They treat me equally, and I love owning my own money,” said Freece, who is an assistant at the Flag Lady. “If someone with a disability wants to work in a place like I am, if I can do it, they can do it.”
When he walked in to ask for a job, he told the shop that he had an intellectual disability and could only work part time.
“When I got here, I did not know how to fold the flags but when they showed me it wasn’t rocket science anyway, so it was perfect,” said Freece.
He learned to stock, fold and hang flags, making his training not so different from any other new hire.
“I’m just a normal guy in a normal work area,” said Freece.
His personality has been a light at the Flag Lady. Dakota Merz works with Freece often and they’ve built inside jokes over the years.
“Ian is hysterical,” said Merz, the customs sales director at the shop. “He’s always making somebody laugh. He always has stories to tell, he always has jokes to tell, so we enjoy having him around.”
According to a study by the Institute for Corporate Productivity, nearly three-quarters of employers reported a positive experience after hiring a worker with an intellectual disability. Merz said hiring those with disabilities could be an answer to the labor problem many employers are facing.
“I think more employers should look at people with disabilities, and they could potentially change their store for the good, definitely change the culture for the better,” said Merz.
The study also showed workers with disabilities are dependable, engaged and have high productivity. When Freece walked into the flag lady over a decade ago, he never knew that he’d get a family and a job all rolled in one. His advice to others with an intellectual disability was simple: “Don't be scared,” said Freece. “I wasn't scared when I walked in here and got the job by myself. I walked in and asked for a job. Do what I did, and just walk in and ask. Don’t be scared."
While Freece found the job on his own, Boundless is an organization that helps those with disabilities find the right job fit for them.
“Individuals want to advance, they want to grow with the company and so we want to find the place that provides that opportunity and meets their needs too in the long run,” said Melissa Engle, the manager of Workforce and Community Services for Boundless.
If you are interested in utilizing their services, you can visit them here.