Monday, December 21, 2009

Going Viral

The fear of hiring people with disabilities stems from a number of reasons and not just one single preconceived notion. This fear often originates from unknowns such as cost or liability. This is unfortunate because almost one-third of ADA accommodation can be met at zero cost and liability is actually greater when not hiring an individual with a disability. Fortunately, this fear can be overcome.

I work for a large corporation that values diversity and believes that its strength comes from a diverse culture. Knowing that this company operates with these beliefs has allowed me to create a truly diverse recruiting strategy with an emphasis on building and sustaining an inclusive workforce. Unsure of where to begin, I was pointed in the direction of the New Mexico Business Leadership Network (NMBLN). Their efforts, assistance, direction, and support was invaluable in building the foundation to our success.

By building meaningful relationships within the community, we were easily able to identify the resources that would help us connect with qualified individuals seeking employment. Before long, I had job seekers, agencies, and employers were all reaching out directly to me to learn more about opportunities for recruiting, hiring, and retaining people with disabilities. Additionally, my peers across the nation were also contacting us with questions about recruiting strategies and training implementation.

This small effort by one person in a small city has gone viral. We all have the ability to truly make a difference when it comes to building an inclusive workforce. Disability does not equal inability. Employees with disabilities often have higher production and retention rates along with lower absenteeism rates. Our employees are focused, dedicated, and loyal.

Due to a collaborative effort by business leaders, the community, and organizations like the New Mexico Business Leadership Network, companies are looking to hire qualified people with disabilities. It takes all of us working together and combining our thoughts, ideas, and resources, to overcome the barriers of fear. By getting involved, staying involved, sharing experiences and asking questions, we have the collective strength to make a very real difference. We have a powerful impact on disability employment.

Michelle M. Gonzalez
Human Resources Professional
Board Member, New Mexico Business Leadership Network

Monday, December 14, 2009

Equal Employment for All

When will Equal Employment for men and women with disabilities become a reality and not just a few words that are part of some article written in the month of October for National Disability Employment Awareness month? When will the unemployment rate that this community faces every day become a number we can live with rather than a statistic no one cares or does something about? When will the people in the Federal, State and City Governments start hiring people with disabilities and not just tell others to do it? We have seen the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA not make opportunities for this community become more plentiful. Today we stand as the greatest country in the world, with some very smart people. Why do we allow our disabled citizens to be underemployed or unemployed and have no voice regarding their future? Have you ever gone to a party where someone didn’t ask what you did for a living? Would you want to answer I receive Social Security? The solution to the issue of putting our disabled community to work must be an issue we take seriously. Steps must be put in place to right this wrong. First, we must get corporate America to sit at the table, and we must have our Human Resource Professionals include disability management into the daily framework of their positions. We must make funding available for the organizations entrusted with preparing this community for employment with the tools they need to succeed; vocational counselors must be able to have access to the latest in technology, training and human resource education available. We must stop training people for jobs that no longer exist in this economy and prepare them for positions that will provide for family sustaining income and career advancement. We must bring corporations and the world of vocational education closer together and to trust one another. When a vocational counselor tells a corporate recruiter “I have the best person for the job” they truly are the best person for the job.

Jeff Klare rides 300 miles to promote the Employment of men and women with disabilities, led by Eric Madeus an 8 year old. Eric one day will be seeking employment

He noted that what happens now would likely affect Eric Madaus, 8, who suffers from Spina Bifida, and other young people with disabilities. They will need, and want to hold meaningful jobs in the future.

Madaus, from the D.C. area, led Klare to the finish line on a special bike.

“If not now, when?” Klare asked. “If companies don’t look to employ people with disabilities now, what’s his future going to be like?”

Jeff Klare
CEO, Hire Disability Solutions, LLC

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Supporting Job Creation Efforts for People with Disabilities in New Jersey

As we look at a devastated economy with real unemployment rates hovering over 18% for all workers, we know that the situation for workers with disabilities is even more dire.

In the past, the biggest issues for people with disabilities might have been accessibility and having the appropriate training and preparation for demand jobs. However, according to US Department of Labor statistics, we are now seeing 27 million more people than there are jobs available—6 people for every job opening. Clearly, while accessibility, education and training are important, an even bigger priority is the creation of new jobs to overcome the massive losses we’ve sustained in the past 10 years.

So how do we support job creation for people with disabilities? In part through supporting the entrepreneurial aspirations of people with disabilities.

New Jersey, through its MIG-funded DiscoverAbilty NJ project is targeting entrepreneurship in three ways.

NJ BLN Disability Supplier Diversity Program
First, we are working with the US and the NJ Business Leadership Network (USBLN and NJBLN) to deploy their Disability Supplier Diversity Program. Through this project, businesses can apply for a “disability-owned” designation that will be independently certified by the NJBLN. This designation will then be marketed to consumers and businesses so that they can patronize companies that have the Disability Supplier Diversity credential.

Entrepreneurship Mentoring Project
New businesses tend to fail within the first three years after start-up. However, with proper mentoring and support, new entrepreneurs can avoid many of the pitfalls that can challenge so many fledgling businesses. The Entrepreneurship Mentoring project will connect new business owners with more experienced businesses for mentoring and support during this critical time.

Innovations Fund
As part of the DiscoverAbility NJ project, we will also be funding smaller, innovative projects throughout the State. Nonprofits and other organizations can apply for the funding and priority will be given to projects that support entrepreneurship for individuals with disabilities in New Jersey.

We’re excited about the possibilities of building entrepreneurial opportunities for people with disabilities and providing them with the support they need to embark on successful self-employment. Job creation is a critical component of all of our workforce development efforts in New Jersey and support for the entrepreneurial aspirations of people with disabilities is a key piece of that puzzle.

If you have other ideas for how we can support entrepreneurship, please leave us a note in the Comments section of this post or drop me a line at

Resources on Entrepreneurship for Individuals with Disabilities

Michele Martin
DiscoverAbility NJ Project Coordinator

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Common Challenges and Opportunities for Collaboration

I am a member of the Connecticut Team, one of three states selected to receive a grant from the NTAR Leadership Center to participate in a 15-month State Leaders Innovation Institute (SLII). One of our team goals is to have the state of Connecticut become a model employer for people with disabilities. In my professional life I am employed as a Human Resources Consultant in the Department of Administrative Services which houses the statewide human resources management division. Some of the functions my division is responsible for include: setting human resources policies for the state, developing job descriptions, administering merit examinations, conducting collective bargaining grievances, and providing consultation to all state agencies on the entire spectrum of human resources matters from employment to termination and everything in between. As a person who has done a lot of work with employees who have disabilities throughout my career this is the goal I am most committed to.

Thanks to the NTAR Leadership Center, I recently had the opportunity to attend The Governor’s Forum on Disability and Economic Development in Roanoke, VA. I was very excited about attending because I was looking forward to seeing what success Virginia had in closing the employment gap for persons with disabilities and I was hoping to get a few ideas that maybe we could adopt in Connecticut. (The later being very important to me as I don’t believe in reinventing the wheel!)

Virginia has high hopes and incredibly motivated leadership, but advancing employment goals in this economy is challenging at best. Virginia is approaching this issue in a similar fashion to Connecticut and faces many of the same challenges. I learned at the conference that while Virginia has great resources available for people with disabilities, it is difficult to get the word out about these resources. It struck me that someone - who was involved in the disability employment field and was attending this conference - was not aware of all of the resources available. This is one of the many challenges that states face; we not only need to make resources available, we need to get these resources to those who need them, especially during these tough economic times.

So while I didn’t learn new strategies to approach the issue of employment, I did get something I consider ever better… networking contacts. I met and talked extensively with my HR counterpart in state government, I networked with many people from other agencies that provide services to or work with peoples with disabilities such as the department of Rehabilitative services, the workforce development board, department for the Blind and Vision impaired, Virginia Tech University and Northrop Grumman Corporation. These contacts I consider to be invaluable, especially since I’ve already been able to tap into the expertise of at least one of them. I also left with the feeling that as an employer the state of Connecticut is doing much better that I thought we were.

My sincere appreciation and gratitude to the NTAR Leadership Center for providing me with this wonderful opportunity.

Francine E. Dew

Human Resources Consultant, State of Connecticut