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Welcome to The JoyPowered® Workspace Podcast, where we talk about embracing humanity in the workplace. I’m Susan White, a national HR consultant. With me is my co-host JoDee Curtis, owner of Purple Ink, an HR consulting firm, and author of “JoyPowered®” and “The JoyPowered® Family.”
The topic today is one that’s near and dear to my heart, recruiting and retaining employees with disabilities. JoDee, as you know, I’ve got an adult daughter with an invisible disability. Her disability is narcolepsy, and the onset of this disability did not happen until she was 24. She had graduated from college, she was out working, living with a friend, and I thought happily launched for life. Well, it was almost overnight where she stopped working, she had to move back home, all she really could do was go to bed for almost five years. Saw a lot of specialists, a lot of doctors, lots of different medicines, tried a lot of different things, and, you know, in all honesty, it was the thought of her ever being back in the world of work was one that was, really became kind of a dream for us. So her dad and I wondered if she really would ever be able to carve out an independent life again. And I will tell you, in the last nine years, we have really, I think, appreciated what it’s like to have a disability like that different than anything I’d ever experienced before. So the good news is she did get out of bed and she, through, really, the good help of Indiana Vocational Rehab, with Goodwill, which was the organization that helped provide her coaching. She’s working part time today, and I have seen the difference it can make in someone’s life, especially with a disability, when the world of work is open to them. And so I’m so excited about today having the chance to have an expert with us today to talk about how do we help people with disabilities become employable and actually thrive in the workplace.
Right. Well, I’ll give your daughter a little plug, too, because she also is an artist on the side, and she has some beautiful artwork that we’re currently displaying at the ink pad, our Purple Ink offices. But I have to admit, as we were preparing for this topic, I couldn’t decide if I was blessed or embarrassed that I haven’t had much direct experience with disabilities, either personally or in the workspace. And I, I think, though, too, that I’m about to learn more about maybe I’ve experienced more that I, that I didn’t know, know about. Right? So I’m excited to learn more from our expert today.
Oh, that’s terrific. I’m really hopeful that a lot of our listeners, especially those that work in HR, or perhaps you’re running your own businesses, that you’ll take away from it today that you probably have employees who have disabilities, but maybe they don’t feel comfortable talking about it in the workplace. Or you may have candidates that you’re overlooking today that you really will want to, I hope, wrap your arms around and, and help make your business a more diverse and richer workplace by their joining you.
I went to the national SHRM conference this summer in Chicago, and Johnny Taylor, our new SHRM President, talked a lot at the beginning of the conference about his theme of “Going Forward Together.” And he talked about the importance of just looking at people who are different than us, right, not just with the disabilities, but people who have different opinions, and the importance of all of us working together. So it’s really an important topic from lots of different standpoints.
Yes. I did a little research before today’s podcast, and I wanted to share some statistics with our listeners that I found on workplaceinitiative.org which is funded by the Poses Foundation, and the facts, I think, are really helpful as you start to think about why does disability employment and inclusion make sense. The first is from the U.S. Census Bureau. There are 56 million people with disabilities in the United States. 30% of families have at least one member of their family with a disability.
In 2017, almost 69% of the U.S. population is employed, but only 20% of people with disabilities are employed, and they are a huge untapped resources.
Yes, from Diversity, Inc., they reported 87% of consumers agree or strongly agree that they would prefer to give their business to companies that employees – that employ people with disabilities. I think that makes such sense. We think about millennials being very strong advocates of socially responsible employers, this is a great opportunity for you.
Right. And then, finally, 20% of workers will experience a disability that lasts a year or more during their professional lives, so the fact is, if you think, “I don’t have a disability and no one in my family does,” well, the fact is, before they’re done working, there’s a pretty good likelihood, one out of five to be specific, that something will occur to you, a chronic disease, some type of physical or invisible disability. So it’s something we all should be concerned with. You know, Susan, we are getting ready to install a new elevator at the church I attend, and they did some videos around people walking into church up a ramp that we have, just as a way to promote people to donate to the project, and it was fascinating to me that I think most everyone who watched this video, we had assumed that we would see elderly people walking up the ramp, when in fact, it was a wide range of people. Maybe – there was a 16 year old boy, football player, who had a temporary disability, right, he was – had an injury and was on crutches. We saw blind people. We saw… and it wasn’t a intentional video. I mean, literally, the video was made on a Sunday morning and said, “We’re going to be here for 90 minutes videotaping people.” And that was also a real eye opener to me, to think of people with disabilities as even just temporary, right, that sometimes it’s not long term.
Interesting. So we’re lucky today because we do have a subject matter expert joining us. It’s Angie Vandersteen, who’s from Tangram Business Resourcing. Tangram Business Resourcing specializes in helping businesses embrace, plan, and incorporate a customized disability inclusion program. They’re headquartered in Indianapolis, but they work with businesses throughout the U.S. Angie, we’re so happy that you’re here. Do you mind starting off maybe telling us a little bit about yourself? What took you to Tangram and what is your role there?
Okay, well, well thank you. All of us at Tangram appreciate the opportunity and that you allow us to represent and speak on the subject today. And I will say talking about myself will be the hardest part. I will geek out when we get talking about disability, because it is such a passion, but I am a lifelong Central Indiana resident. My husband Rick and I have been married for 20 years. I have four boys, so they keep my heart full and sometimes my head full of gray hair, too. We have one son who is nonverbal and has autism. He is a twin, so it was very easy during his young development to see him developmentally not progressing like his twin brother was. And then we have another son who has the same neurological condition I do, it’s called Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, which as it progresses with both of us, will cause variants in disability. The disabilities in my family really isn’t what led me to Tangram, more happenstance. I was at Channel 13 for several years working in broadcasting, which is what I majored in in college, and say mid-career crisis, you know how many people get burned out a career and you start looking for other things, and found a great opportunity with another agency that provides services for people with disabilities, started working there. And they actually employ people with disabilities, and when I really learned about all the issues of around employment for people with disabilities, the sub-minimum wage, the under – not just the unemployment but the underemployment, it grew that passion, because I was working daily with these peoples who had all the abilities everybody else did, and it was injustice to me. So that’s really what led me down that path and eventually to the opportunity at Tangram, where I am Business Development Manager, I like to say I’m our cheerleader, going out to educate not only businesses, but the community on what we do, and to let them know about the services we can provide to help them with disability inclusion in their workplace.
Angie, when you – would do you mind sharing with us what was the name of the organization you went to before Tangram?
I was with Bosma Enterprises.
They are located here in Indianapolis and part of the National Industries for the Blind. So they have various federal contracts and also contracts with other businesses, and through those contracts is how they’ve been able to not only employ people with disabilities, primarily people who are blind or visually impaired, but also provide support services and rehabilitation.
Well, good. Shout out to them as well. But I’m curious, did you know when you went there that you had a disability yourself?
I had been diagnosed with the disease, but what I’ll say is I thought more of it as medical. And I think that’s one of the things out there, not only with people with disabilities, but just the general public, is we separate the two in our minds. Until, you know, there is something I cannot do, you start separating in your mind medical and disability. Well, all disabilities are somehow medical in nature.
So I knew I had a medical condition, and that’s how I would refer to it. But now, because there are adjustments I’ve had to make in my life, you know, accommodations around the house and so forth, that I do now refer to it as a disability.
And so how do you define disability?
You know, my mind immediately goes to the ADA and what the ADA says, but I don’t want to repeat that word for word. Common sense, if it’s something that’s medical, neurological, intellectually related that impairs how you live your life, impairs your ability to be fully independent in daily activities, whether it’s at home, at work, school, transportation, so forth, then I would qualify that as a disability.
You know, Angie, you mentioned, if you don’t mind sharing with us, that you had some… I’m not sure if you used this word, “accommodations,” even at your own house. What are some of the accommodations you use at home?
Nothing that I found professionally or went to someone for, but I call them my life hacks. So little things like, if anybody out there remembers the old-fashioned nutcrackers, the two little stems where you put the nut in there, you crack it, I use that to open everything through the house, because actually, it works better for me than some of the products around that you can find to help open jars and bottles and so forth, because it’s got a longer handle where, with my condition, I have atrophy in my hand – I tell people all time, I don’t have thumb muscles, sorry – because I can get a full hand grip around that. So those are the type of things. I have added strings or various little just hacks to stuff to make them easier for me to open to pull, to close. And then there’s times when I can’t find a good hack, and thankfully, I have Hercules for a husband.
Yeah, well, I just, I wanted to ask about that because I think many times when we think of accommodations, we think expensive.
Yeah. Very true.
Right. And that – they don’t have to be.
They don’t have to be. And I mentioned the atrophy of my hand. So if you have atrophy in your hands, your feet, and they get very cold, it’s harder for you to use them. And so that’s one thing I keep on me is medical gloves, because I can still put them – I might look silly, but… I look like a member of the Blue Man Group, but I put those gloves on and then my hands are warm enough to where I can still work, I can still use touchscreens and things like that. So you’re right. Accommodations do not have to be expensive. Sometimes it’s just being very creative in your thinking and what you have around right at home.
Can you give some examples in the workplace, maybe, that you have seen, of fairly inexpensive accommodations? And how does an employer go about finding those accommodations when they have a person with disability that has a need?
Yeah, well, there’s great resources out there in regards to finding accommodations. And if you have an employee you have hired who actually went through vocational rehab or, you know, straight out of college and you found them through disability services at their school, or so forth, those organizations might be able to help you make the connections but when you’re talking inexpensive accommodations, it could be something as simple as looking at room setup. I know I’ve talked to many people who talk about returning veterans with PTSD, and how you arrange rooms so backs are never to doors and so forth, because you eliminate those triggers. I actually had a conversation with a gentleman yesterday who is on the autism spectrum, and he’s asked to rearrange his office, because he finds that if he sees people throughout the day, he’s more likely to approach and start conversation than if he’s stuck in a corner, he can’t see them prior to. It’s like it gives him prep time, in his mind.
I love that!
So, you know, you just have to really understand the person’s disability and how it affects them, because again, we always refer to autism as a spectrum disorder. In my mind, all disabilities are spectrum disorders, right? I mentioned the condition my son and I have, it affects him completely different than it affects me. It is hereditary, my father has it, it has affected him completely different than it has affected me. So we need to think of all disabilities also as spectrums, and the needs for one might not be the same needs as another.
That makes sense. Well, I know that Tangram, and you in particular, reach out to businesses as they’re trying to figure out, how do I start with a disability inclusion program in my firm, and Tangram’s there to – as many other firms are as well – to help advise. So maybe you could give our listeners, maybe some guidance on where do you start if you want to have a strong disability inclusion program.
What we advise everyone is – we preach it to people, actually – is that you have to start at the top and have that leadership buy in. If you have to have someone from the top that really has bought into this and willing to be your champion in regards to promoting it. You also have to be very intentional with your inclusion and intentional with everything that you are doing in regards to disability inclusion in the workplace. And the reason the leadership buy in is so important is because if you think of a major program that a company does, and listeners, I’d like for you to think of things like if your company has acquired another business, if you’re starting to promote or manufacturer a new product expansion into a different area, company-wide process improvement, things like that. It’s not your immediate supervisor who goes out and makes the initial announcement. It’s not your immediate supervisor who is promoting that or anything. It’s someone from the C-suite. And that’s why you need that CEO, CEO, etc., someone big within the organization, make this promotion, make this announcement. And that’s why everyone takes it as seriously as they do. You need to do same thing with disability inclusion. I would say with any type of diversity, you need that type of champion, not just disability, but any type of diversity, promoting it, because if it’s just that’s coming from a memo from a supervisor or they’re mentioning at the beginning of a meeting, in passing, etc., you have flyers on your wall, employees aren’t going to take it any more seriously than they will that person approaching them about cookies their little girl is selling, okay? You need the champion that’s higher up, that’s viewed in a different manner, saying this is when, this is what we’re doing, and this is why we’re doing it.
Okay, good. Do you have any suggestions on how you can engage the CEOs or or members of the C-suite?
I would say the best way is to back into it. Find out about the organization, find someone within the organization that might not be at the C-suite but can get you to them that has the passion, the experience, that can be the influencer so that they can make that introduction for you or make that case internally on it and get it up to the right person in the C-suite. But honestly, there’s a lot of people on that level that’s already involved in the disability community. So finding them if you can, if you can find enough background on that high level person and find their connection to disability will, will get you far, because that’s the other thing, you know, you earlier read those statistics as far as people having disabilities in their life, whether themselves or a family member, they’re not thinking about in the workplace. You, you get so busy with your own life that you’re not thinking, “Hey, I’m raising a child with autism, but am I employing people with autism?” “I’m raising a child with MS, am I employing a person with MS or other disabilities?” So there’s many ways to find them and engage them. It’s just a matter of getting that down to that conversation with them about why it’s important for their industry and for their business.
You know, in my own personal experience, I worked for a very large company and I was very active in the accessibility employee networking group or business resource group, whatever your firm calls it, and what I found when I was trying to really enlist the most senior level members of our organization is that if I shared my own personal experience, by and large, you know, they might be part of that 30% of their family has somebody with a disability, they themselves might have it, or they care about somebody that does. So I found that it’s really tough if you go in and say, “Do you have… Do you happen to have anybody in your family or friends with a disability?” “Oh, no, no, sure don’t.” But when you start sharing, they realize, “Yes, I do have, my uncle has diabetes, and we’re terrified each day about it because he’s living alone,” and so on, so forth. Just amazing to me that it does resonate, but you have to have conversations.
And although I love the approach of starting with the C-suite, and I think that can be an easier process, if it does, I – for our listeners out there, if some of you are not in the C-suite, I think, Susan, your story is another way, too, that maybe that is a way to get the C-suite buy in, is from a line supervisor or manager or employee who shares his own stories and situations and simple accommodations that might be able to be made, that could get that CEO buy in if they’re not getting it.
Right. And, you know, another approach, I mean, it’s just important to have that buy in for the sustainability, to know that you’ve got someone that – because, like with anything new, you’re gonna have failures along the way, you’re have learning experiences along the way, I should say. And, you know, another concept too, would be also to do pilots within your organization. So that is something that, you know, HR can introduce, someone in operations can introduce, and if you make the business case argument for it, if you go to them and say, “You know, this is the research I’ve done, this is what I’ve seen on how disability inclusion affects productivity positively, how it affects retention positively, and so forth. We want to try this here,” and tell them, “I want to pilot in my area, I want us to… HR, I want you to intentionally recruit from the disability community for my openings and pilot it and, you know, do the work, keep the stats on it and everything.” That’s another way to take it and make it broader and approach the big decision makers. With that, I mentioned retention, I was speaking to a gentleman just this morning who came from the cleaning industry, and he mentioned to me that most cleaning companies face 100% or more turnover. All right? So he goes, “It’s very easy for you to have somebody assigned to your crew and know you’re not going to see him next week.” Okay? But he worked for an organization that actually employed people with disabilities, and they had only 20% turnover. So all those people out there number crunching and thinking of how much recruitment per position it costs, that’s big dollars, there.
That’s a big return on their investment.
Right. Well, and, you know, thinking about the numbers, Angie, if… we said earlier, if 30% of families have at least one member with a disability, you know that in almost every organization, there are people who are dealing with this.
You’re right. And that’s why Susan’s suggestion is a great one, to start with that conversation, and if you have a story or experience to share, do that. And, you know, another thing I’d like to bring up is before you start any type of program, whether it is company-wide or a pilot project within your organization on disability inclusion, you’ve got to do that systems check, a deep audit of your culture to ensure that your culture is inviting and would support this. And this, again, is something for any factor of diversity, you wouldn’t want to bring in an influx of refugees if you find out that your culture would not be accepting to them. So the same thing with disability, do that audit to make sure that you have an accepting culture. And if you find out after you do the audit that you don’t, that not everybody buys into the message that you want coming out from your company, then you say, “what do we need to do?”.
Because we believe in this, we want to make this an important factor of our future, recruiting in our future employment. What do we need to do to make sure that we have the culture where it needs to be? So…
What are some of the types of things that you can do to set the culture so that it will be more welcoming to people with disabilities?
Education and training, definitely, is the top things that you can do, really breaking down and getting into the unconscious bias of why people have these viewpoints. You know, we hear that word unconscious, or that phrase “unconscious bias” thrown out a lot in diversity. Well, there are biases, there’s fears that people have about employing people with disabilities. They think that productivity is going to be affected. They think that “I’m going to have to supervise this person more” or they think that they have higher absentee rates. And I’m going to tell you right now, all of that is false. Usually you have better schedule adherence from people with disabilities than you do from the general public, from your general work population. Productivity isn’t affected, safety records aren’t affected. Actually, there was a study done by Safety Magazine – it’s a couple years old now – in a distribution center, where they prove that point, that distribution center that hired more people with disabilities actually had a better safety rate.
I love getting rid of misconceptions. I know there’s a lot of different resources out there. I know that, obviously, the United States Business Leadership Network, which has recently been renamed to the United States Disability:IN, I believe, that’s a great website to go to to get stats and facts and really kind of clear the air on this. What are some other resources or places people can go to learn more about the value of hiring people with disabilities?
And you’re right, there are some great resources out there, and I’m glad you brought up Disability:IN, and you can actually find some information also on the Jobs Accommodation Network, JAN. There are a few very well larger, respected universities, DePaul and Cornell come to mind immediately, that have departments focused on this and actually also work with businesses on disability inclusion, if you’re looking for information on education about disabilities, not necessarily in the workplace, but on disabilities. Indiana University has a great department, online resources also. But there’s a great amount of research out there in regards to how disability inclusion can reduce turnover, provide better safety rates, cost reduction on recruitment, improve hiring and training processes. And all those are items that a company can look at and see the hard cost savings. And then some other soft benefits, including increased employee morale and productivity, which can also reduce turnover further. Besides the universities, you mentioned, Susan, the former USBLN, some states’ Departments of Labor or Departments of Workforce Development have information, statistics on this that you can look up. The U.S. DoL also has information. There are family foundations, larger foundations also that provide funding for inclusion initiatives. You mentioned the Poses Family Foundation earlier. The Kessler Foundation, they provide inclusion funding and also statistics. They actually put out reports on a regular basis and just published a new white paper on disability inclusion, so that’s something that, you know, companies can look at, too, those type of organizations to get more information.
We’ve mentioned several different resources now. I’m thinking, Angie, if you could share some of those with us, maybe we could post that on our website or on our social media for people who might be driving in the car listening to us and not writing all these down, so…
So, what I hear a lot from employers who say, “Okay, Susan, I get it. It’s important that we be inclusive. We need to have people in our workplace with disabilities. Where do I find them? How do I go find people with disabilities?”
Well, every state has a vocational rehabilitation department. Voc Rehab works with people with disabilities to find employment. That is a great source for employers. If you reach out to Voc Rehab, they can connect you with various providers in your area that are working directly with people with disabilities. Your high schools and universities. Almost all universities have some type of department that is related to assisting students with disabilities, all universities have career centers, and so forth. Now, they don’t always talk to each other, but working with both of those departments and letting them know that we are wanting to be diverse, we are wanting to recruit students from your school with disabilities. And if you’re in an industry where you don’t necessarily need a degree, working locally with your high schools. I know here in Indiana, we refer to them as “transitional counselors,” they know the students that aren’t moving on that either have individual education plans or other supports that qualify as a person with disabilities. But another source I like to always bring up to people is your parent organizations, because – your parent support groups and so forth, because if…your daughter’s a great example, she was in the workforce and she came back home, you guys always knew where she was. So if you’re reaching out to the parents, and maybe their child, whether they’re 25, 30 years old, isn’t where you can reach them, maybe they’re not at the university, they’ve lost contact at the high school, they haven’t went to VR, but the parents know where they’re at. And you can take the same philosophy to going out to church and religious organizations, because here’s the fact, whether it’s about disabilities or anything else in your life, when you need help, you turn to the people who’s always been there with you. So if a parent support group’s always been there with you, that’s where you’re going. If you’ve always been involved with church, that’s where you’re going. Or your community centers.
So Angie, if we can get the C-suite to buy into this and make our case and show them our information and promote it within the organization, how do we get to the, to the next step in the process? How do – by preparing, educating, or training our managers, supervisors, and staff? It just seems like they’re gonna be the ones maybe with, with the hands on deck, right?
So how do we help them with this?
So the company, as part of that buy in, has to buy in also that everyone involved, most particularly those who are going to be managing the staff that you’re bringing in, go through disability awareness and etiquette training, give them a high level overview of what a disability is. And you’ll be amazed when you go through it, you know, all those myths that are squashed, the misconceptions we were talking about earlier, you want to educate them on what a disability is, and it really opens their eyes to the hidden disabilities and what we spoke about earlier of how people think it’s a medical condition where it’s actually a disability, because then you’re going to get down to not only your managers and supervisors, the hands on deck, but their coworkers, too. The coworkers need to be involved, make that training part of a fabric of your culture and your training programs. So yes, at launch, you have to have that training and you also need to have that buy in from somebody up top talking about it and telling why it’s important and encouraging everyone. But most companies do some type of annual training, whether it’s, you know, about your industry or sexual harassment in the workplace. And you need to have disability awareness as part of that. Also, don’t have a one and done. Keep it ongoing, because you’re going to continually bring in new employees with various disabilities, and you want to keep that fresh on their mind. So as soon as someone comes in, make it a part of the onboarding. Those are things that we…
In addition to that, getting down to specific trainings related to disability inclusion for specific roles, making sure anyone in the hiring process is trained on how to hire and interview people with disabilities. Making sure all of your managers go for training on fears and stigmas, because that’s the biggest thing that’s going to squash any initiative. If those are addressed, then there’s a higher likelihood that your program is going to fail, because what’s going to happen is, you’re going to have a manager or supervisor who is working directly with that person, and because that fear has not been addressed, they might treat them differently. They might not give them as many opportunities. They can wear kids gloves instead of treating them the same, the same way they treat other employees, and instead of that person feeling that loyalty, that the grass is green here, they’re gonna start looking for greener grass.
With so much of our audience being HR professionals, do you have any, like, etiquette for interviewing or anything about the frontline HR person can do to make a difference when they’re talking to a candidate with a disability?
So when you – whether it’s somebody in HR, anyone approaching someone with disability, you just need to be very aware of the various disabilities’ preferred communication techniques. Be aware. If you know someone is coming in for an interview and you’ve been made aware that they utilize a wheelchair, anything that could be in their way is moved. If you know that someone has a visual impairment, speaking to them about where things are located. So again, as part of that education process companies need to, to implement is making sure people understand the etiquette behind it. Also knowing what not to do. So, just because someone is visually impaired doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with their hearing. You want, you, you want to talk to the person age appropriately, like you would anyone else. And I said age appropriately, because I always think of, it sounds like they’re talking to kids sometimes when they know someone has a disability. Talk to them and not their support person, or translator if they happen to be hearing impaired, so if someone comes in and they have a job coach with them, which is quite common for people, people with disabilities, particularly going through vocational rehab, look at the person when you ask a question. Same if you’re interviewing someone who’s deaf, and they have an interpreter, look at the person. They might be looking at the interpreter, but you need to show the respect to them that you would show to anyone else, because your conversation is with them, about them, not with the interpreter, about the interpreter. Think of the interpreter like you would think of your phone. Okay? It’s just a means to get your message to them. That’s all it is.
That’s great advice. Yeah.
Another thing I would add is give people time to respond to your question. You never know if somebody has a hidden disability, a processing disorder on the autism spectrum. Usually, those people need just a little bit more time to process what you’ve asked them. So average time we give in conversations to answer a question is around 1.4 seconds, and… that’s how much time, if you’re processing out your answer, and here’s what happens. You ask that question again. They start processing it again, because that’s just how their brain is wired. Nothing wrong with it. That’s just how it is. So, yeah, three to five seconds for someone to answer a question. And, you know, don’t stare them down. Don’t make them feel rushed. Keep the environment calm.
That’s amazing, really, right? 1.4 seconds.
Actually, I was thinking that’s kind of long for JoDee.
I was thinking that!
And, you know, these are things, too, that… I shared earlier that I have a son with autism, and I realized at home not too long ago that I wasn’t always giving him that time. You know, and once I did, it was a major breakthrough in him doing daily tasks, because, say it was “pick up your shoes,” and he didn’t respond, and I’d say, “Ray, pick up your shoes.” And then I realized, I need to give him the time. And so I would count in my head, and sure enough, he would do it on his own every time once I started giving that more time.
What a great learning, right? Angie, are there some mistakes or errors that you’ve seen businesses make that we could avoid?
Well, the immediate one I think of is not providing training. So you bring people in, and then your staff doesn’t know how to work with them. They’re not aware of what we just talked about with providing more time for response. Another one, not doing a systems audit. So again, you want to hire, especially in today’s marketplace, because we have such low unemployment and people want to fill those positions, and they hear about the great numbers related to disability inclusion, and so they start hiring, but they haven’t done that audit, and you start seeing turnover from the people you bring in for this inclusion project. Well, guess what? It’s because your culture wasn’t ready, your culture wasn’t educated. I would like to add also, not thinking about their potential upward mobility. So, unfortunately, we have this misconception in our society that people with disabilities can only do certain type of work and bringing people in only at entry level positions. I think I alluded to earlier that the underemployment rate for people with disabilities is also extremely high. It’s not just the unemployment rate. So, you know, everybody needs that first stepping stone, which is great. We all started out in those entry level positions. But don’t think someone can’t achieve more, can’t go more, because here’s what’s gonna happen. You’re gonna lose them. And they were a great employee, were… they showed up on time and they did their work and you could have kept them forever if you would have thought of them the same way you did everyone else.
So Angie, I – if you’re a government contractor, I know that there are some requirements on the disability front. Would you be willing to share what those are about hiring people with disabilities?
Yes. If you hold a federal contract, your workforce, any part of your workforce working on that contract, 7% of that workforce is supposed to be a person with a disability. And we talked the numbers earlier, it’s estimated around 20% of all working age adults have a disability. The issue is people being willing to self-disclose. So employers, most people out there who work, most people in HR know those forms where you check the box and say, “Yes, I have a disability.” But again, it goes back to that culture, because all of us in our mind, “what are they using that information for?”
Right. People are cynical.
They are, they are, and if you haven’t educated well on what you’re using that information for, saying, “because of this contract that you’re working on, we have to have this information,” reassuring that this information will not affect your health insurance, will not affect your upward mobility, all those things that are going through someone’s mind when they see that. You know, the other thing I would advise on that is, do not send out that self-disclosure form right next to open enrollment. If you want to trigger that that in their mind that this is going to be related to their insurance costs increasing, that’s the perfect way to do that. So, yes, federal, federal contractors, do have that requirement. We don’t have police going out and checking on it, but it’s very interesting, because most federal contractors want to do it anyway, because they know enough about the business case, size. Besides the stats we talked about earlier, they also know that if I want to put out a product and market it to people where it’s being bought, I need to have the people that think like who’s buying in my, in my organization. And if we’re talking these high numbers, that 40% of families have somebody with a disability, 20% of our workforce has a disability, then you better have people that are thinking like that, thinking about what their needs are so your products are being developed that way and your products are being marketed that way. Federal contractors are getting that. So they they want to, for various reasons that’s not always just, “I’m being told,” but they are being told, and they’re having difficulty getting their employees to admit that “yes, I’m self-disclosing I have a disability.” So you’ve got to promote, you’ve got to tell them it’s okay. You’ve got to make your culture feel like if I do tell, I’m not going to lose my job, I’m not gonna have something held against me.
Well, Angie, you’ve shared with us a lot of information today that I didn’t know about before, so I’m really thankful. Is there anything that we haven’t asked you about, though, or anything we’re missing?
I would say continue to educate yourself on the topic, for the listeners listening out there, make sure you continue to educate yourself on disability inclusion, what others are doing, the successes they have had, best practices, and also continue to audit your processes and your culture, because a change in leadership, change in dynamics, a big influx of new employees, a new contract, all that can get your culture out of balance, so you need to continue assessing and you need to continue also educating.
That’s great. Now, Angie, if any of our listeners would like to reach out to you or to Tangram Business Resourcing, how can they find you?
Okay, thank you. You can find us on the internet at tangrambusinessresourcing.org, and through our website, you can directly connect with us. We have our direct connect phone numbers and email addresses for all of our staff. We’re also very active on social media, on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook, and we do respond to messages very quickly.
Well, thank you so much for coming. It’s really been a joy. We wish you well.
All right. Well, thank you. We appreciate this opportunity.
Yeah, thanks for coming.
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So JoDee, I am thrilled that we were able to get Theresa Koleszar, the Director of the Bureau of Rehabilitation Services, to join us today to talk a little bit more about what Indiana Vocational Rehab does and really how our listeners can help make their workplaces more disability inclusive.
So Theresa, thank you for joining.
Is there anything that you’d like to tell us about yourself or about the program?
Well, thank you, first of all, for, for asking me to join. As you mentioned, my name is Theresa. I’ve been with the Bureau for about 14 years. I started as a voc rehab counselor in the Indianapolis area and have done several roles in between, and I’ve been the director of the bureau here for about two and a half years. And, you know, I love the program. It’s a great program. I have not encountered another program like VR, so I’m always excited to talk about about our program.
Fantastic. Can you briefly describe to us what the mission of state vocational rehab services is?
Yes. You mentioned it’s the state voc rehab services, and VR is a national program, and the mission is to assist job seekers who just happen to have disabilities to achieve their employment goals, big, small, and everything in between. And we do this through a variety of services, such as vocational counseling and guidance to help individuals really understand where they can add value, what their interests are, their abilities, their skills, their preferences, other services such as supported employment services, rehabilitation technology, job readiness training, and a whole host of other training services that individuals might need to prepare for employment, and really a variety of other services based on each individual’s unique vocational needs.
That’s great. Is there anything happening with Indiana State vocational rehab that you’d want to share?
Sure, yes, we’ve been working to enhance collaboration. Collaboration has been a… kind of a name of the game lately here. So working to enhance collaboration with key partners to ensure that job seekers with disabilities have multiple options, or what I’ve been referring to as pathways, multiple pathways to employment. I really feel pretty strongly that job seekers with disabilities benefit the most when we have those successful collaborative partnerships and don’t try to do this in isolation, and we’re also more successful as agencies when that good collaboration is in place. There really isn’t any one single organization that I think could fully meet the needs of all individuals, and I like to think of VR as a gap filler, if you will. There’s a variety of other organizations that provide some similar services to job seekers, and, you know, that does or should include job seekers that just happen to have disabilities. There’s also some services that we provide in VR that I think are probably pretty unique and not as readily available elsewhere, such as supported employment services, working with that job coach one-on-one, and rehabilitation technology, which can sometimes be pretty, pretty customized to that individual. Those are the gaps that I, that I referred to. And just to kind of illustrate this through an example, think about a college student who, you know, is a college student, just like many of us were one day, and that college student just happens to have a disability. If that student is eligible for the VR program, we could potentially assist them to, you know, achieve employment through VR. But as some other options or other pathways, that student could also access employment assistance through their college career center or their local WorkOne. And in some ways, those resources could actually be more beneficial for them in terms of getting a job, because they have some of those networks. Now the Alumni Association, as an example, might have some special connection to that school that we don’t necessarily have in VR. Now fast forward a little bit, that, you know, that same student who then obtained employment with maybe assistance through that Alumni Association network now is preparing to begin that job and identifies that they have a need for some kind of customized assistive technology, low vision software or some kind of adaptive device, there was a gap, right? So that’s an area of expertise that we have in VR, and could potentially fill that gap. So in that example, we’re working not in isolation as organizations to provide everything needed for one person, but there’s that blending of resources, that collaboration happening, where, again, employment is obtained through this pathway and now we’re helping to fill in a gap over here with that assistive technology.
That makes sense.
Yeah, that’s fantastic. Theresa, do you have any advice for our listeners who are HR or business leaders who want to be employers who have disability inclusive workplaces?
Absolutely. You know, to put it simply, I would say just start somewhere. It could be a small step, or some employers have done big initiatives. It could be something like offering a tour or a mentoring day to students with disabilities, and we’re always happy to connect you with our local partners at the school level, that transition level, to get something like that started. Other small steps would be offering job seekers with disabilities maybe a job shadow or an informational interview to learn about your industry, maybe even offering an opportunity for an internship or a work experience. You know, start by hiring that first person. Hire one person with a disability and go from there. Talking to other businesses who have hired folks with disabilities, and again, we could help make those connections. Something that I really like to educate around is for businesses to look at their application process, just to see if there’s any unnecessary barriers that might prevent someone with a disability even from applying. So, for example, checking in with your IT staff to make sure your online application materials are compatible with with low vision software. So, again, those are just a few small things, I think, just, you know, kind of start somewhere, pick one that seems doable. You never know where one, you know, one small step might lead until you take that that first step. And there was a conversation earlier in the podcast around how to change that work culture and perceptions of individuals with disabilities in the workplace as employees, and I can say from experience that when an individual with a disability has been hired, or maybe they’re at the workplace for an internship or work experience, they’re, they’re demonstrating their skills, their, their, and their abilities, and in a way, then, sometimes busting myths that were discussed earlier. I mean, what better way to really change the culture and break down those barriers and those misperceptions? And the more individuals with disabilities that we see working, I really feel the more we start changing those perceptions. I can talk till I’m blue in the face, and that’s only going to get so far, but letting those employees experience someone with a disability in the workplace and seeing, “Oh, wow, this person has a lot of skills.” That’s, that’s really the best way, I think, to start. Again, changing that that work culture along with sharing success stories is always a great tool, again, to change those perceptions and start shifting that culture a little bit. One final thought that I would add is that I think as a, as a system in our industry or the business of employing people with disabilities, we are sometimes guilty of overwhelming businesses through our industry specific terminology, you know, talking about reasonable accommodations and assistive technology. There are certainly many resources to assist businesses in these areas, such as voc rehab, organizations like Tangram that we heard from earlier, that work in partnerships often with us, the Job Accommodation Network mentioned earlier. However, I will say that much of the time, what we refer to in these sort of techie terms, assistive technology, or, again, job modifications, reasonable accommodations, sometimes that’s, frankly, just good problem solving, and often the individual themselves is the best resource for this problem solving. So I guess what I would say around that is that navigating job modifications or accommodations can definitely seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Businesses don’t have to be an expert at this. Shouldn’t be, the lack of expertise in this shouldn’t be the reason why they don’t hire folks with disabilities. Again, they don’t have to be an expert. There’s a lot of great resources, there’s other expertise they can tap into. And again, sometimes simple problem solving and problem solving with that individual addresses the issue.
Yeah, great advice, Theresa.
Absolutely. So Theresa, if any of the business leaders or HR folks who are listening today would like to contact any state vocational rehab, what’s the best way to do that?
Sure. Our business and community engagement director is a wonderful, wonderful woman by the name of Kristina Blankenship, and I don’t know if it’s easier for me to send you her contact information or try to give that here, but she’s a great starting point. She does a great job connecting businesses and organizations with resources in their local area, and in some instances, that’s even included connecting businesses with other businesses who have some type of initiative or have done some hiring to help them explain from a business perspective what that experience has been. So she’s a great starting point.
I’ve had the pleasure of working with Kristina, and I think she is terrific and has done an amazing job for us.
Would you mind giving her phone number, because I think that people when they hear this, it might be the easiest way?
Sure. Absolutely. Her phone number is 317-650-9828.
Beautiful. Well, gosh, thank you so very much, Theresa, for joining us today. It’s really been enlightening and very, very helpful.
Yeah. Thanks so much.
Susan, we have a listener question this week. We received a question from Sarah in Maryland, who is getting ready to place a staff member on a written warning. Sarah has only done corrective action with a few staff members in the past, and all took it well and in fact improved or ended up quitting on their own. She is concerned this time though, as the staff member refuses to believe she isn’t performing as well as she thinks she is, and does not take accountability for the errors and customer complaints that have arisen. Sarah wants to know if the staff member refuses to sign the written warning, what should she do?
Sarah, you know, sometimes that does happen, where an employee is so angry about being confronted with the work, you know, poor performance, or they’re stunned or they’re hurt or whatever the reaction is, they’re not willing, when you’re having that conversation, to sign the corrective action form. The important thing for you to do is to let them know that if you don’t want to sign, I just need for you to know that this is still in effect. I am going to hold you accountable for that Performance Improvement Plan that we’ve just talked about, and failure to rise to the level that we need you to from a performance perspective could result in you moving to the next level of corrective action, or in some cases, you might be at the termination point. So not having them signed, I would just make a note on it saying the employee refused to sign and date it and give them a copy, whether they want to pick it up or not, and move forward.
So in the news today, I read a New York Post article that was dated May 4, 2018, about a bill that’s on the table in the New York City legislature that would give employees the right to disconnect from their employers. What this means is that an employee who’s gone home for the evening or gone home for the weekend, that they cannot be held accountable or harmed in any way for not responding to an email, not responding to a phone call. In fact, the bill proposes a fine of $250 to any employer who punishes their employee for not responding to calls, emails, texts, or instant messages after regular working hours.
I know! I’m a serial weekender. I do a lot on the weekend, and…
I do too!
I don’t expect responses, but I’m always delighted when I get them
I will, too. I want to make it clear to any Purple Ink employees that this is only valid in New York.
Yes. And my apologies to all the people who’ve worked for me in the past that got night and weekend emails and texts. The people that would be exempt from this, though, we should note, are government employees, on call staff like doctors and nurses, or companies that actually have overseas businesses that employees need to be able to work at odd hours in order to accommodate their customers. So I’ve been researching this bill, I’ve not seen that it’s been passed yet. There’s a lot of discussion happening on this front, so I would love to just watch it, see where this goes, and see if it does become law.
I think it’s interesting that it’s a government entity, and that government entities are excluded!
I do, that is funny.
Let’s pass a law that doesn’t apply to us.
Yeah, very good. The article said that 63% of those surveyed by the Workforce Institute said they would still work after hours, even if it violated company policies, so should be interesting.
Good. That’s a sign of the times, though, isn’t it, that someone’s even thinking about this kind of legislation?
Yes, sure is.
So please tune in next time. Thank you for listening today. If you have missed any of our podcasts, you can catch all episodes for free at iTunes, Google Play, Podbean, or Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Just search on the word “JoyPowered.” All one word. If you have questions on any HR topic, you can call us at 317-688-1613 or give feedback on our podcasts via our JoyPowered® Facebook account or on Twitter @JoyPowered. We welcome listener questions and comments.