Monday, November 30, 2009

Reflections on USBLN Conference

I had the privilege of attending the United States Business Leadership Network’s ® (USBLN) National Conference in National Harbor Maryland in September thanks to the NTAR Leadership Center. I, as Executive Director, and Regina Stankaitis, as President, represented the Connecticut Business Leadership Network, an association of small, medium and large businesses committed to maximizing employment for people with disabilities.

A major theme of the conference was maximizing the amount of the 220 billion dollars of disposable income of people with disabilities that business could acquire. Presenters discussed marketing to people with disabilities outside of the business and within. For example, Nordstrom’s featured its catalogue ads with disabled models as well as its lighting which makes its goods more accessible to people with disabilities. Ernst and Young talked about its role with the USBLN ® in developing a pilot program to certify disability owned businesses like minority and women owned businesses. Many employers presented strategies for hiring qualified candidates with disabilities. Randy Lewis of Walgreens talked about universality in workplace accommodations - a modification to a tracking system for people with intellectual disabilities made everyone 20% more productive.

What continues to strike me is that businesses "get it" about disability. Disability rights advocates no longer need to make the business case for hiring people with disabilities. They make it to each other. They understand that good customer service to people with disabilities generalizes to better customer service. They understand that good management of people with disabilities and workplace accommodations translates to good management overall.

I was recently at a meeting where human service professionals and disability advocates were discussing job carving. They explained that this involved dividing a job up so that it included functions that could be done by a person with an intellectual disability. A retired insurance executive exclaimed “that’s not ‘job carving’. It is just what good managers do.” This awareness extends well beyond the small number of companies that disability advocates consider when naming disability-positive companies. It extends to all businesses that want to be on the cutting edge when looking at ways to maximize their bottom line.

Melissa Marshall, Executive Director

Connecticut Business Leadership Network

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