standing next to kitchen sink and running water

Meet Dustin, Dishwasher at Earl Hanson Elementary School!

standing next to kitchen sink

Dustin finds value in what he does and hopes to keep working at the Earl Hanson for a long time!

Employment is an important part of community inclusion for people with disabilities. Meaningful work fosters personal growth, equal opportunity, self-sufficiency, and independence. During National Disability Employment Awareness Month, The Arc is celebrating the many contributions and achievements of employees with disabilities in the local workforce and raising awareness of employment-related advantages unique to hiring people with disabilities.

Meet Dustin, he washes dishes for students at Earl Hanson Elementary School, part of the Rock Island/Milan School District. Children’s voices echo in the kitchen, the excited shrieks and whoops of a Physical Education class are underway in an adjacent classroom. But that doesn’t distract Dustin from getting his workstation ready for the day with the correct levels of hot water of the three-sink method he uses to clean, rinse, and sanitize the dishes and pans used to feed students at the school. Dustin workplace isn’t where he starts the day, but it plays an important role in his daily routine and is a source of pride and financial advancement.

Dustin starts his day at The Arc building and then walks over to Earl Hanson located immediately adjacent to his job as a dishwasher. When he arrives, he dons the white apron and hairnet that all of his colleagues wear in the bustling kitchen. Then he starts on the dishes from breakfast before lunch pots and pans start to come in. When he’s done cleaning and sanitizing, he has lunch at the school and then walks back to The Arc building. Dustin feels valued and welcomed there, and his paycheck allows him to pursue his interests, something he’s very proud of.

Although Dustin has worked for the school district for only eighteen months, he hopes to stay there indefinitely. Says Dustin, “I really like it there. I hope I get to stay there a long time.” This is music to the ears of kitchen supervisors who struggle to fill vacancies in a role that may be seen as entry-level, yet plays a crucial role in ensuring that commercial kitchens can operate smoothly and efficiently. Says Dustin’s supervisor Sharon, “He’s really good. We put him to good use.” At Earl Hanson, everyone is part of a team of people who make sure students get the proper nutrition they need to learn and grow.

Many employers are discovering that hiring people with disabilities can help to diversify their workforce with loyal and committed employees often have the knock-on effects of improved employee morale and innovation in the workplace. Says Dustin of his job, “I hope this is my forever job.” Dustin’s enthusiasm demonstrates the advantages of hiring people with disabilities. His flexible work arrangement is a small accommodation that has provided benefits to Dustin and the school district with just-in-time labor. Small accommodations can eliminate some of the barriers people with disabilities experience that have kept them out of the workforce. Many of those stigmas have been internalized by people with disabilities who may not see themselves as a valued part of the job pool. Dustin has advice for anyone who might be experiencing this:

“Put some effort into it. Be focused. It took a while to land my job. Keep working hard. You can do it.”

During the month of October, we will be showcasing inclusive workplace practices that benefit disabled workers and employers. More and more employers are trying out-of-the-box thinking to address a tight labor market. Opportunities favor creative approaches, find out how The Arc’s Community Employment Services program can benefit your team at