Richard P. Swierat: Employing People With Developmental Disabilities

In his 32 years as executive director of the social services nonprofit The Arc of Westchester, Ric Swierat has been instrumental in revolutionizing employment programs for people with developmental disabilities.

He helped take the existing model of employment for the disabled—work was brought to “sheltered workshops,” where disabled workers toiled away for sub-minimum wage—and turned it around, so the workers could hold actual jobs out in the community and make minimum wage or higher doing it.

“We’ve always believed that people with disabilities belong in the community, having jobs,” Swierat explains. “We realized our skill set was building worker skills and then finding good jobs [for them] in the community.” Under his leadership, Arc has achieved a 90 percent employment rate for the disabled individuals it serves (compared to 20 percent nationwide), and Arc is now partnered with more than 200 local businesses that provide employment opportunities.