The discussion is set for 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Putnam County Museum, 1105 N. Jackson St. Panelists will be Chuck Schroeder of Putnam County Comprehensive Services, Sally Black and Sharon Perkins of Cummins Behavioral Health and Bobby Hopper of Greencastle McDonald's.
"We want to reach as many people as possible to let them know the services available and get rid of the mystery around these issues," MHA executive director Illeen Johnson.
One focus of the discussion will be on the employment needs of special needs individuals. Hopper said that while these disabilities can carry with them certain stigmas and perceived limitations, his business has found success with its employees.
"We have found that if employees have special needs or not, if you invest your time in them, they can work out," Hopper said. "With all our employees, I don't tell them there's anything they can't do -- their limitations are set by themselves, not me."
As an example, he has been told that employees with autism could not handle working with the public or that other employees could not handle the pace of work. Their performance has proven otherwise.
"Our philosophy as a brand name is anybody who wants to be successful, we're willing to give them the support system to be just that," Hopper said.
Greencastle McDonald's currently employs five special needs employees among its 71 total.
Schroeder said the economy in recent years has taken its toll on Comprehensive Services' clients by making the competition for jobs more intense.
"I think the unemployment issue has taken its toll on our clientele," Schroeder said. "Fortunately, the community is very, very receptive to our individuals with disabilities."
Both men agree that the employment of people with disabilities is vital to their well being and their ability to connect with society.
"If they don't have work, they feel like they don't have meaning," Schroeder said.
Hopper told the story of a special needs employee who works just three hours a week.
"That three-hour job means the world to her because she has a job," Hopper said. "It's her way of connecting."
He said that in hiring, training and working with employees with special needs, the "disability" becomes just another character trait. All workers have their strengths and weaknesses, and employers find a way to utilize them.
"We're all working together. We all have to deal with each other in the same way," Hopper said.
"Everyone has their niche in life," Schroeder added.