Southern Oklahoma may enjoy a lower unemployment rate and better economic climate than many parts of the nation. Still finding and keeping employees can be a daunting task for many employers. But Melissa Walker, Sunshine Industries, Inc. of Ardmore executive director, says there's an untapped employee market right here at home. And one that offers employers some unexpected benefits.

"People with disabilities have a variety of talents and can bring not only fresh and innovative ideas to the workplace, but diversity, too," Walker said, adding unfortunately statistics show the group has double the unemployment rate of people without disabilities.

What that means is employers are virtually missing the boat when it comes to hiring a workforce full of potential

According to the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy, more than any other group of people, individuals with disabilities have a special ability. That ability is adaptability. They are able to adapt to different situations and circumstances which makes recruiting and retaining them a strong strategy in countering the effects of an aging and shrinking workforce.

In addition, this untapped employee group can add a range of viewpoints businesses need to succeed, including first-hand marketing information to tap into the ever-increasing customer base of people with disabilities.

Locally Southern Oklahoma Supported Employment, a branch of Sunshine Industries, matches job applicants with businesses in the area.

"People with developmental/intellectual disabilities are eager to provide quality and reliable service to their employer," said Sherry Henderson, Director of SOSE.

Currently, SOSE is providing job coaching services to people employed by Long John Silvers, Little Caesar's Pizza, Applebee's Neighborhood Bar & Grill, and McDonald's. They are job developing for 15 others who are looking for employment.

Toni Layton, Long John Silvers general manager in Ardmore, said she has found a great employee in Scotty Hacker.

"There are tons of benefits," she said. "He's always on time. When he calls in sick you know he's really sick. He's always in a good mood. He wants to learn. He wants to be here. He's not just waiting until something better comes along or just for the paycheck. He loves his job."

Walker and Henderson both said they can provide local employers information right now about "employees ready to go to work and available to go to work." Henderson can be contacted at (580) 226-9675. Walker can be reached at (580) 226-1444.