Column: The Power of Peer Influence

Have you ever felt the influence of your peers? Maybe it was going skydiving after your friends convinced you to try it. Maybe it was volunteering with your colleagues in your community. Or perhaps it was signing up for a benefit walk to help a cause your peers also support.

Recently, I read an article that discussed the power of peer influence on one’s decision-making process. It made me think about how this concept could be applied more broadly to employment people with developmental disabilities. Why not use this potential power of peer influence to promote positive interactions among individuals thinking about working in the community?

Nathan Column GraphicMerely 19 percent of people with disabilities are actively participating in the workforce, according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics. Competitive employment results in many positive outcomes, so why aren’t more people participating? From my experience in the field, lack of exposure to the possibilities of employment can be a hindering factor. Also, individual choice is a factor and some people may not have a desire to work in the community.

Stepping out into the workforce can come with risks, and often it may seem that the risks far outweigh the benefits. However, offering forums to talk about employment possibilities can help others seek out opportunities of interest, or, at the very least, provide information. These forums also offer support in an informal, non-threatening and relaxed environment.

At Hamilton County DD Services, we recently put this concept into action. Latasha Walker has worked at Beckman Adult Center for many years, and this summer she made the decision to find a community job. She was hired by LaRosa’s Pizzeria and shared her story with her peers who attend Kidd Adult Center.

Latasha at Kidd
Latasha Walker talked to her peers at Kidd Adult Center about community employment.

The conversation was thought-provoking and many who listened to Latasha’s story asked her questions about transportation, wages and other topics related to work. This shows her peers were engaged and interested in learning more about having a job outside of the adult center environment.

Positive encouragement and the opportunity to hear a successful employment story may elicit more interest and help someone understand the benefits of working in the community. And maybe this forum, like others, motivated someone to seek out potential opportunities.

Making the choice to join the workforce is a personal decision based on that person’s interest in employment. Ohio’s Employment First initiative has changed the expectations for individuals with disabilities of working age, placing employment as the preferred and expected outcome. Our agency and others in Ohio have many great resources to assist individuals in their quest for employment. Hamilton County DD Services is committed to making employment a reality for individuals who have a desire to work.

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