Over the last year or so, I have been working on an exciting research project through the NTAR Leadership Center. My colleagues and I are profiling market-driven practices that promote employment for people with disabilities. We have been especially interested in learning about partnerships with employers that lead to increased hiring, retention, promotion or accommodation of people with disabilities. At this point, we have completed our field visits, interviews and other research, and we are now in the process of writing up what we found in a report to be called, “Ready and Able.”
While all of the people we spoke to in doing our research have a common belief that people with disabilities can work and want to work, the word that comes to mind to describe our research is “diversity.” For a start, our research team is comprised of people with different backgrounds. I have experience primarily with the “mainstream” workforce development system, and my two colleagues – Bob Nicholas and Dan Baker – have extensive experience with disability systems. The experience of seeing the subjects of our profiles through these different lenses has enriched the research and led to greater understanding of diverse perspectives.
We have found amazing diversity in the approaches we are profiling. Employers partner and collaborate to employ people with disabilities in so many different ways. We are seeing collaborations between major national employers and public sector agencies. Some models focus on a particular industry or occupational sector, in partnership with public or nonprofit intermediary organizations. We talked to different types of job brokers – a private staffing service and a non-profit “Alternative Staffing Organization” – to understand how they work to increase employment of people with disabilities. We found some really great partnerships that expand opportunities for college students and graduates with disabilities. And we also spoke to people working in local and regional hubs that bridge the gap between people with disabilities and employers. We found some great people and organizations working in creative ways to act as catalysts for disability and employment partnerships.
The research also reminded me of the diversity among people with disabilities – so many different types of people, so many different needs and approaches. And we have found, in many cases, that companies are increasingly seeing disability as another dimension of diversity – within their workforces and their customer bases.
While the approaches are varied, there are some important common themes that are emerging. Employers are embracing the business case for employing people with disabilities. They see individuals with disabilities as adding value and positively affecting the company’s or organization’s “bottom line.” One person called this being smart, not nice. The more successful experiences employers have, the more they want to hire people with disabilities. At the same time, employers do not want to have to maintain relationships with many varied disability service organizations. They want a partner to make it easy for them to recruit, hire, train and support people with disabilities. A good partnership or collaboration can serve this function. For a number of companies that have made a clear commitment to disability as diversity, the only question is how best to accomplish this.
Our research has shown me that “diversity” means creativity, great ideas and different approaches that enrich and strengthen the ways in which the private, public and non-profit sectors can work together to increase employment of people with disabilities. Stay tuned for the complete “Ready and Able” report. Meanwhile, tell us about your diverse experiences with partnerships that promote employment for people with disabilities.
Senior Practitioner in Residence, Heldrich Center
Principal Investigator, NTAR Leadership Center National Research