A Message to CEO’s: Here’s the Sweet Spot for Disability Inclusion At Work

Rochester, NY’s skyline, photo by Kathy H Porter

I worry that, like a jilted lover, you could be left behind.

Or that you’ll bluster and try to fake your way through it.

Worse, like a front line supervisor, running his department by the seat of his pants, you just won’t give a crap.

Some of you can disregard all of this because you “get” it. This gives me hope, which is why I’m reaching out to the rest of you. It’s time to shake off your skepticism, uneasiness or indifference.

Join the conversation about disability inclusion in the workplace because now, more than ever, it’s time.

Here, in New York state, it’s time.

It’s time to change the economic realities; to push beyond the grim “ … composite picture of a working age adult with a disability in New York (as) an individual who is more likely unemployed, with no more than a high school education, living in poverty, and dependent on government benefits,” as depicted in the March, 2015 New York State Employment First Commission - Report and Recommendations study.

It’s time to change the narrative.

Governor Cuomo is taking that to the bank, in a manner of speaking. On March 8, 2016, he announced that $2.4 million “ … has been dispersed to 100 organizations that provide employment services to individuals with disabilities via the New York State Employment Services System.”

Of that $2.4 million, five provider agencies in Monroe County split a grand total of $101,744.85. The breakdown looks like this:

  1. Rochester Rehabilitation Center, Inc ………………. $10,932.38
  2. Mental Health Assoc of Rochester/Monroe Cty …….$12,494.40
  3. Learning Disabilities Assoc of Genesee Valley ……….$30,105.77
  4. Rochester Works Inc ……………………………..……$22,341,21
  5. Rochester Psychiatric Center …………………..…….$25,871.09

If you want to see how your region made out, you can click here to see the itemized breakdown.

Not only is there serious money to support individuals with disabilities in job readiness training and workplace supports, there’s additional money earmarked to “train the trainers,” so to speak.

Thanks to “ … the United States Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Programs in Fiscal Year 2016–2017, New York will receive 400 hours of training from nationally recognized experts in the field of disability employment.” (Here’s the skinny on that.)

Happily, that money will be used to train the folks in leadership roles in these agencies. Hopefully, their training will filter down to front line employees.

This significant infusion of cash into existing disability systems that support the employment aspirations of individuals with disabilities should give you pause.

Not only is job support ramping up but, attitudes among your peers about hiring employees with disabilities are changing too.

What was once viewed as “an act of charity” among local businesses, as Nate Dougherty quoted Tammy Reynolds in his March 11, 2016 Rochester Business Journal (RBJ) article, “Hiring of disabled employees is accelerating,no longer holds up.

Reynolds should know. As the director of the Jobs Program at the ARC of Monroe County, a job readiness program for men and women with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) that’s been around since the 1980's, she’s watched this attitude change over time.

In fact, research conducted by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) clearly bears out that employing individuals with IDD has a positive return on investment for businesses.

A report produced by i4cp in 2014 examined survey data, case studies and individual success stories to come up with this critical summary:

“ … by hiring individuals with IDD, organizations have gained dependable, motivated employees who deliver observable business benefits and help their employers create inclusive cultures that attract desirable talent pools.” (pg 61)

Here, in Rochester, NY, Angella Luyk has always understood the inherent value in hiring individuals with disabilities.

Luyk is both CEO/Founder at One Stop Janitorial Carpet Supply and CEO at Midnight Janitorial. Not only does she tailor her company’s on-the-job training to accommodate all of her employees’ learning styles, she “gets” the importance of working with job coaches that, in most cases, are an integral support for the employees she hires that have disabilities; job coaches that are provided at no cost to her by adult provider agencies for the benefit of their clients.

“My thought,” says Luyk, “is that you take a chance hiring anyone. Why not take a chance by hiring people with disabilities and get the added support with training from a job coach.”

In appreciation for Luyk’s commitment to disability inclusion in the workplace, Midnight Janitorial earned the statewide National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) award for their exemplary hiring and training practices for individuals with disabilities in 2008.

This award is sponsored by the Rochester Area Employment Network, Inc (RAEN).

Help us to change the narrative.

The sad truth is that it won’t matter how much you glam up disability inclusion at work. If it’s not wholeheartedly embraced by executive leadership and everyone in your company, including by that guy who turns the lights out at the end of the day, it won’t work.

Know this, my friend: it all starts with you.

Getting started is the easy part. Just believe.

Believe that everyone has value and contributes in a meaningful way.

Believe that there is more than one way to complete a task.

Believe in more than one way to communicate clearly.

Believe in mentors and peer support.

Your belief is that darling of all sweet spots making everything else possible.

Here’s what I know. People with disabilities are just like you. They’re good at some things, not so good at others. They’d rather have a job that plays to their passion and strengths rather than a job that bores them out of their minds.

Here’s something else I know. The disability employment provider systems in New York state that support individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are woefully overburdened.

While it’s great that state leaders are taking steps to bolster this system, quite frankly, the agencies themselves could use some help.

Look around you at what’s happening in your community. Start a conversation with your employees. Encourage them to share their insights. Ask them what disability inclusion in their department means to them.

Expect that every member of your senior management team will do the same.

Be that company CEO who rolls up his/her sleeves to do whatever it takes.

Don’t be the CEO who believes that with so many other things on your mind, you can’t possibly do this. Don’t believe that it’s okay if some other company steps up.

My recurring nightmare is that no one steps up. Please, don’t let that be you.

Thanks for reading! You can get exclusive up-dates about my advocacy work when you sign up for my newsletter. Yep — there’s a “sweet spot” bribe. And, if you like my insider’s advice to CEO’s, help me by sharing this with your peeps.

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