Top Organizations to Receive Diversity and Inclusion Honors Award At Annual Conference

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The Association of ERGs & Councils(a practice group of PRISM International, Inc.) released their annual list of the Top 25 US Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), Business Resource Groups (BRGs) and Diversity Councils set to receive the tenth annual 2019 ERG & Council Honors Award™ at an award ceremony during the 2019 ERG & Council Conference in Orlando May 3rd.

The 2019 ERG & Council Honors Award™ is the only annual national award that recognizes and honors the outstanding contributions and achievements of ERGs, BRGs and Diversity Councils. It was established in 2008 by the Association of ERGs & Councils, a practice group of diversity and inclusion consulting and training firm PRISM International, Inc.

The 2019 ERG & Council Honors Award™ recipients are a diverse combination of US organizations representing most sectors, geographies and sizes. “This year we had a diverse pool of highly qualified applications representing 1,079 ERGs, BRGs, Diversity Councils and their chapters,” states Fernando Serpa, Executive Director of the Association of ERGs & Councils. “We also had several non-Top 25 groups demonstrate best practices and results that deserve to be recognized and they will be receiving the Spotlight Impact Award™ that highlights the achievements of these select groups in the categories of Organizational Impact, Talent Management and Culture of Inclusion.”

This year, for the first time, the Association of ERGs and Councils will bestow the honor of Top Executive Sponsor of the Year. “We wanted to recognize and call out the important role executive sponsors play in developing, supporting and enabling their ERGs and Councils to succeed,” Serpa said.

The 2019 ERG & Council Honors Award™ Top 25 recipient rankings will be revealed at the May 3 award ceremony at the Disney Yacht & Beach Club Resort in Orlando, Florida. The Award Ceremony and Conference is open to all diversity and inclusion professionals involved with ERGs, BRGs and Councils.  This is a great opportunity for individuals to learn and share best practices, network, grow and celebrate, to become inspired and be renewed…all for the purpose of increasing their impact on key organizational and business objectives. Learn more by visiting ErgCouncilConference.com.

The 2019 ERG & Council Honors Award™ recipients in alphabetical order include:

  • American Airlines – American Airlines Diversity Advisory Council
  • Atrium Health – Atrium Health Divisional Diversity Councils
  • Bank of America – Military Support & Assistance Group ( MSAG)
  • Cleveland Clinic – ClinicPride Employee Resource Group (ClinicPride ERG)
  • Cleveland Clinic – Military/Veterans Employee Resource Group
  • Cleveland Clinic – SALUD
  • Davenport University – Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council
  • Entergy Corporation – Entergy Employee Resource Group
  • Erie Insurance – Diversity & Inclusion Leadership Council
  • Froedtert Health – Froedtert Health Diversity Council
  • General Motors – General Motors Employee Resource Group Council
  • KeyBank – Key Business Impact and Networking Groups
  • Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals – Mallinckrodt Inclusion & Diversity Council
  • Mount Sinai Queens, part of the Mount Sinai Health System – Mount Sinai Queens Diversity Council
  • Mount Sinai St. Luke’s, part of the Mount Sinai Health System – Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Diversity Council
  • National Guard – Joint Diversity Executive Council
  • Northern Trust Corporation – Advancing Professionals Resource Council (APRC)
  • Northern Trust Corporation – Women In Leadership Business Resource Council (WIL BRC)
  • Northwestern Mutual – Asian ERG
  • Northwestern Mutual – Northwestern Mutual Women’s Employee Resource Group
  • Novant Health – Asian Business Resource Group
  • PNC Financial Services Group – Corporate Diversity Council
  • State Street Corporation – Professional Women’s Network – Massachusetts Chapter (PWN-MA)
  • Texas Instruments – Texas Instruments Diversity Network (TIDN)
  • Turner, Inc. – Turner Business Resource Groups
  • U.S. Bank – Spectrum LGBTQ Business Resource Group
  • U.S. Bank – U.S. Bank Proud to Serve

The 2019 Spotlight Impact Award™ recipients in alphabetical order include:

  • Dominion Energy – Dominion Energy Executive Diversity Council (EDC)
  • FedEx Services – Diversity and Inclusion BRT Council
  • Food Lion – Diversity and Inclusion
  • MUFG Union Bank, N.A. – Women’s Initiative Network (WIN)
  • Summa Health – Diversity and Advisory Council

The 2019 Executive Sponsor of the Year recipients in alphabetical order:

  • FedEx Services Diversity and Inclusion BRT Council – Rebecca Huling
  • Perdue Farms Inclusion Council – Randy Day
  • Southern California Edison Company (SCE) Women’s Roundtable (WR) – Maria Rigatti
  • U.S. Bank Proud to Serve – Mike Ott

About the ERG & Council Honors Award™
The ERG & Council Honors Award™ is the only annual national award that recognizes, honors and celebrates the outstanding contributions and achievements of ERGs, BRGs and Diversity Councils that lead the diversity and inclusion process in their organizations and demonstrate results in their workforce, workplace and marketplace. Learn more by visiting ERG & Council Honors Award™.

About the ERG & Council Conference™
ERGs and Diversity Councils are vital links for improving organizational results. However, to remain impactful and effective, they need opportunities to increase their skills and knowledge and to learn and share best practices. They need opportunities to network, celebrate and grow. This is the purpose of the only annual conference designed specifically for ERGs, BRGs and Diversity Councils. Learn more by visiting ERGCouncilConference.com.

About the Association of ERGs & Councils
The Association of ERGs & Councils is a practice group of PRISM International Inc. and the premier resource for transforming Employee Resource Groups, Diversity Councils and Employee Network Groups to impact key organizational and business objectives. Learn more by visiting the ErgCouncil.com.

About PRISM International, Inc.
PRISM International Inc., a Talent Dimensions company, is a WBENC-certified, full-service provider of innovative and proven consulting, training and products for leveraging diversity and inclusion, addressing unconscious bias, increasing cross-cultural competencies and creating more effective ERGs and Diversity Councils. Learn more by visiting PrismDiversity.com

LUCI Reimagines Modern Mobility through Wheelchair Smart Technology

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woman dressed in all yellow seated in a LUCI wheelchair

LUCI, a company that is reimagining modern mobility, today announced the release of its premier product also named LUCI.
It’s a first-of-its-kind hardware and software platform that uses sensor-fusion technologies to allow a power wheelchair to “see” its environment, giving riders unprecedented stability, security and cloud connectivity.
LUCI mounts onto a power wheelchair between the power base and the seat, to help users avoid collisions and dangerous drop-offs while maintaining personalized driving control.

Through cloud-based capabilities, LUCI can also monitor and alert users and caregivers of low battery, possible tipping scenarios, and other important updates regarding the chair and the user.

Tipping over in a wheelchair is a common, treacherous reality, which often leads to trips to the hospital and expensive healthcare bills. In fact, 87 percent of wheelchair users reported at least one tip or fall in the past three years. Wheelchair accidents were the cause of more than 175,000 ER visits in 2010 — the last year the data was tracked — and 30,000 of those were significant enough for admission into the hospital.

“Wheelchair users were left behind when it comes to most innovative technology,” said Barry Dean, CEO and founder of LUCI, a Grammy-nominated songwriter, whose daughter Katherine, 19, has cerebral palsy and has used a wheelchair her whole life. “We realized no one else was working on this problem in a meaningful way so my brother Jered (Dean, CTO of LUCI) and I set out to create a solution for Katherine. What started as a labor of love among family members has ultimately created a safer, more stable way for people with disabilities to navigate their world and stay connected to loved ones. Today, we’re excited to launch LUCI and continue collaborating with researchers, universities and other companies using our open platform to move the industry forward together.”

The LUCI team spent the past two and half years collaborating with clinical professionals and logging over 25,000 hours of user testing to develop an invention to help people with physical disabilities drive safely, precisely and independently. LUCI’s R&D efforts have already resulted in a total of 16 patents (eight pending).

“When we started tinkering with my niece Katherine’s chair, we had no idea where this journey would lead,” said Jered Dean, CTO, who has spent two decades in design and systems engineering, most recently serving as director of the Colorado School of Mines’s Capstone Design@Mines program. “From developing advancements in millimeter-wave radar technology to collaborating with engineering leaders from Intel® RealSense™ Technology group to maximize the application of some of the world’s smartest cameras, I’m incredibly proud of the unprecedented work our team has accomplished to solve the challenges our customers face.”

LUCI’s technology combines stereovision, infrared, ultrasonic and radar sensors to offer users these critical features:
● Collision avoidance: LUCI is designed to prevent wheelchair users from running into objects (walls, people, pets, furniture, etc.) as they navigate their daily lives. It does this by smoothly helping to navigate the chair in coordination with user steering inputs based on obstacle detection in the driver’s surroundings.
● Drop-off protection: It doesn’t take a large drop-off to tip a wheelchair (less than three inches in some cases). LUCI helps users avoid tipping by recognizing steps or drop-offs and smoothly helping the chair continue on a safer path.
● Anti-tipping alert system: LUCI monitors the steepness of a ramp or the ground users are driving on and provides an audible alert if it becomes a tipping danger. In the event that a chair tips over, LUCI sounds an alarm and can be configured to quickly alert other individuals, such as a caregiver or loved one, of the exact location of the rider and the tipped chair.
● Cloud-based communications and alerts: The MyLUCI portal allows users to view their data and share it with loved ones or clinicians. LUCI can be set up to alert others of specific events, such as the user’s location if their battery gets dangerously low. LUCI also now works with Hey Google and Amazon Alexa so users can interact with MyLUCI using their voice. MyLUCI portal is available as mobile apps for both iOS and Android™ phones, as well as for desktop with the Web Portal.
● Secure health monitoring: LUCI users can choose to share their heart rate data with their team using either Google Fit* or Apple Health- Kit from day one. Based in Nashville, with R&D headquarters in Denver, Colo., LUCI was founded by Barry and Jered Dean—two brothers who were driven to innovate from personal experience and committed to create change for people living with disabilities.

For more info, visit luci.com.

“What started as a labor of love among family members has ultimately created a safer, more stable way for people with disabilities to navigate their world and stay connected to loved ones.”
— Barry Dean, CEO and founder of LUCI.

2 Blind Brothers Launch Clothing Company to Raise Money Toward Finding a Cure for Blindness

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New York brothers Bryan and Bradford Manning lost their vision due to a rare genetic eye disorder. Their new clothing brand, Two Blind Brothers, is funding research for a cure.

What would you do if the world around you started disappearing? When Bradford Manning began to lose his vision at about 5 years old, “panic and anxiety set in,” he tells PEOPLE. Two years later, a doctor diagnosed Manning with Stargardt disease — a rare genetic eye disorder that can cause blindness. Manning’s younger brother, Bryan, would soon be diagnosed with the same condition.

Growing up with the disease came with its many challenges and awkward moments, the brothers note:

(Image credit: Courtesy Two Blind Brothers)

meeting a new friend and immediately forgetting what they look like, constantly squinting to see what a teacher writes on the chalkboard, not being able to drive.

It can be super isolating,” Bryan, 30, says. “People can’t see your visibility, so you deal with people who make comments or do things that can really hurt if you aren’t willing to own up to who you are.”

The New York brothers have dedicated their lives — and work — to finding a cure for eye diseases like theirs. In 2016, they founded the clothing brand Two Blind Brothers, which simulates the experience of shopping while blind. All profits benefit organizations like the Foundation for Fighting Blindness that research prevention, treatments, and cures for degenerative eye conditions.

Read the full article at PEOPLE.

Convening in the Time of COVID-19: Disability Advocates Converge on Zoom for The Arc’s National Convention

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Business people working together on project in work studio

While this year’s COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted business as usual for many businesses, it has also presented unexpected opportunities. Like many others, The Arc was forced to cancel and shift all in-person events starting in March.

When the time came to plan our annual convention—which draws people with disabilities, family members, The Arc’s chapter leaders, and allies together to learn, grow, and celebrate and advance disability rights—the choice was obvious: go virtual and give more people than ever before the ability to attend our flagship event. The best part? The event was free. In an era when time and money are short for many and screen fatigue is more prevalent than ever, it was important to The Arc to ensure this year’s programming was valuable, accessible, and affordable. A record nearly 3,000 people registered, surpassing previous in-person attendance almost threefold. The format also enabled more first-timers than ever before to participate.

The event featured speakers from a wide range of backgrounds: grassroots advocates, policymakers, The Arc’s chapter staff, and The Arc’s national office. Sessions covered everything from voting to police safety to community supports and organizational hardship in the time of COVID. Sessions were also carefully curated to be accessible through captioning, real-time American Sign Language interpretation, and accessibly designed slide decks and support materials. Between structured sessions, attendees had the opportunity to connect in more informal settings and share their knowledge and challenges with others facing similar circumstances. These new—and renewed—connections will provide networks of support as advocates, family members, and professionals prepare to dive into the coming year.

People with disabilities and those who support them are at a critical inflection point in our history. Existing budget crises, waiting lists, and other service delivery challenges have been exacerbated by the pandemic. As we navigate the challenges of today and work to build a better tomorrow, The Arc is proud to provide ongoing resources and support.

As a benefit of this year’s online format, you can watch archived sessions from the event on-demand for free.

And, save the date for next year’s event which we expect to hold from September 27 – 29, 2021 in New Orleans, Louisiana!

Chris Nikic Shatters Stereotypes to Become First Person with Down Syndrome to Complete an IRONMAN

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Chris Nikic and Dan Grieb running past the finish line

As the sun barely began to rise at 5:52am on Saturday morning, 7 November 2022, Special Olympics Florida athlete Chris Nikic and his Unified partner and coach Dan Grieb, entered the water in Panama City at the start of the IRONMAN Florida triathlon.

Sixteen hours and 46 minutes later, as the nighttime darkness settled in, Chris crossed the finish line and made history of as the first person with Down syndrome to finish a full IRONMAN race.

Chris conquered a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride and 26.2 marathon run to complete the IRONMAN in a total time of 16:46:09. During the race, Chris suffered an attack by ants during a nutrition stop and fell off of his bike a couple of times. With blood dripping from his knee, he jumped right back on in a show of true sportsmanship and grit.

Chris’ achievement landed him on the Guinness World Records list. Craig Glenday, Editor-in-Chief, watched Chris persevere with great joy saying, “It’s an honour to welcome Chris into the Guinness World Records fraternity as the first athlete with Down syndrome to complete an IRONMAN, and I look forward to seeing what more is in store from this remarkable young man.”

To stay motivated during the long months of training, Chris and his father Nik developed the 1% better principle – get better, faster and stronger by 1% every day. According to Nik, IRONMAN is further proof that all things are possible with a plan and determination. “To Chris, this race was more than just a finish line and celebration of victory,” he said. “IRONMAN has served as his platform to become one step closer to his goal of living a life of inclusion and leadership.”

“I’m no longer surprised by what Chris can accomplish because I recognize who Chris is; a human being who has goals and dreams just like everyone else,” said Coach Dan. “He wants to make the path easier for those just like him and can follow his lead.”

Continue on to the Special Olympics to read the full article

Photo Credit: Getty, Michael Reaves / Stringer

 

3 Ways Elevating the Narrative on Disabilities Leads to Business Success

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A woman in a wheelchair, going down a hallway

By Sheryl Snapp Conner of Entrepreneur 

In a recent column, I introduced Ric Nelson, a 37-year-old disability advocate in Anchorage, Alaska. Nelson has cerebral palsy and requires full-time assistance to manage his physical needs. Despite his challenges, he’s dedicated his career to advancing programs and understanding of the disabled in Alaska (which ranks third in the U.S. for the strength of its programs) and throughout the U.S.

After graduating in the top 10 percent of his high school class, Nelson secured associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in Small Business Management and Business Administration on scholarship, followed by a master’s degree in Public Administration.

Nelson serves on multiple boards and has testified in Washington D.C. toward advances in the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). Appointed in 2007, After six years’ service as a committee member of the Governor’s Council on Disabilities and Special Education (GCDSE), he was elected as the program chair for two years and hired as a staff member from September 2015 until September 2020 as the program’s Employment Program Coordinator.

Most recently Nelson has assumed the role of Advocacy and Outreach Specialist for The ARC of Anchorage, one of 600 U.S. locations for The Arc of the United States, an organization launched by parents of people with developmental disabilities in the 1950s and headquartered in Washington, D.C.

The Covid-19 recession has hit the disabled particularly hard, Nelson says. The disabled have lost nearly 1M jobs between March and May of 2020. Complicating factors include jobs that ended due to the extra risk of immunocompromised conditions and the predominance of lower-level positions in industries that have been most heavily hit. With DEI (Diversity, Equality and Inclusion) becoming one of the highest priorities for this year’s end and the seasons to follow, what do businesses need to know and do to support the disabled from here forward?

In an interview, Nelson reinforced the need for self-advocacy among the disabled and the need for greater awareness and education of the businesses and communities they serve. Public perception is tantamount, he says, to avoid the creation of further problems by the very solutions we attempt to create.

For example, he notes the extreme difficulty (and even impossibility) of having a savings account when government programs assume any earning potential should be used to reimburse the cost of Medicare needs.

“The cost to Medicare of a full-time assistant may be $100,000, regardless of the person’s activities,” Nelson says. “But if a fully-employed disabled person makes $50,000 or $80,000 – a rarity in itself – and loses their qualification for Medicare funds, they can’t go to work without suddenly incurring this debt.”

Other issues include the right to continued health care benefits if they marry, or to put away retirement savings or to maintain equivalent benefits if they move to a different state. Many of these issues require continued advocacy to state and federal agencies.

Continue to Entrepreneur.com to read the full article. 

Collettey’s Cookies Founder Helps Others with Disabilities

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Collette Divitto holding a bag of her cookies

By Kellie Speed

After applying for numerous jobs and receiving countless rejections, Collette Divitto did what not too many young ladies her age might do after college – she decided to start her own business.

Born with Down Syndrome, Divitto has now made it her personal mission to beat all odds and help others with disabilities.

The Ridgefield, Connecticut, native and disability activist graduated from Clemson University’s three-year LIFE program in just two years. Shortly after that, she moved to Boston in search of employment. “I went on about nine interviews and would have a cup of coffee with the CEO and talked about their company, but days later I would always get an email saying it was great to meet you in person, but that I was not a good fit,” she told us in a Zoom interview.

No stranger to facing rejection over the years, the headstrong Divitto knew she would have to reinvent herself. With her mother (and biggest cheerleader), Rosemary, by her side, they developed a marketing plan to do what Collette has always loved doing – baking cookies.Collette holding a tray of cookies

“Collette had a teacher back in high school, who said that she could make baking a profession because she is the best student in the class and helps everyone else in the class,” Rosemary said. “I would always tell Collette I would help her as best as I could to have the life she wanted, but it was Collette who has to do all of the work. She had a mantra that she used to say to herself all the time growing up – ‘I deserve the best for me’ – and that has helped build her confidence, be clear about what she wants, and set herself up to work hard to achieve it.”

After learning the basics of baking in high school, Collette began creating new recipes to have her family taste test. The standout was one filled with chocolate chips, rolled in cinnamon sugar and baked to a golden perfection. Originally dubbed “The Amazing Cookie,” it’s now one of her best sellers.

Collette posing with a plate of cookies and a glass of milkToday, she has a thriving online cookie business known as Collettey’s Cookies (Click here to visit her website) that serves up everything from her personal favorite (and the now famous) crunchy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside, chocolate chip cinnamon cookies to the popular chewy peanut butter cookies.

With 13 employees and three interns in her Boston kitchen, the Collettey’s team bakes twice a week and ships to customers four to five days a week. “In four hours, they make and bake between 2,000 to 3,000 cookies,” Collette said. “Some of these cookies have to go right into storage containers to avoid getting too hard too fast if not stored immediately, so there are extra precautions they have to take with each cookie along with all of the sanitization requirements.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, Collette decided to create a specialty gift package for essential workers and first responders. The response she received was so overwhelming that she wanted to give back as well. She decided that for all cookies ordered, she would personally match the number of cookies in each order. Right now, she is wrapping up filming for a TV show that will feature select entrepreneurs like Collette, who have faced major challenges in life but were successful in overcoming them.

Collette, who loves chocolate, is in the process of perfecting yet another cookie – this one made with espresso and dark chocolate. She first tested the recipe with milk chocolate and cocoa powder, but determined “it wasn’t rich enough.”Collette holding a cookie in front of a large tray of cookies

Today, this big-hearted young lady is setting out to prove to the world (one cookie at a time) that with a positive attitude and determination, you can do anything. “I would say to people with disabilities do not focus on your disabilities,” she said. “You need to focus on your abilities. Do not give up on your dreams. Do not let people bring you down, and my favorite saying is, ‘No matter who you are, you can make a difference in this world.’”

Luckily for Collette, she has already done just that.

Rehiring the Smart Way: Mainstreaming Disability in Recruiting Strategies

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A woman in a wheelchair accepting a pen and paper from a fellow employee

By Tamala Scott

As we envision a return to normal following the pandemic, many businesses find themselves in a position of having to rehire staff to ramp back up to pre-COVID productivity and revenue.

While traditional sourcing strategies—such as online job boards, newspaper ads, staffing agencies— may secure employees in the short-term, your recruiting strategy may be missing the mark in reaching a valuable yet untapped resource—job seekers with disabilities. This article will shed light on the multiple advantages that businesses gain from hiring people with disabilities, beginning by dispelling three of the most common myths that deter businesses from actively recruiting jobseekers with disabilities. We also offer a few key strategies on how to get started on your inclusion journey.

Cost. The first and perhaps most insidious myth is that hiring people with disabilities is a costly practice. The Job Accommodation Network has surveyed nearly 3,000 employers since 2004 to ask them about their accommodation practices and costs. Nearly 60 percent of all of those surveyed have reported reasonable accommodation costs of $0 for their employees with disabilities, while the remaining respondents report an average cost per individual of $500 or less. The same study also lists numerous cost-saving benefits for providing a streamlined and comprehensive reasonable accommodation strategy, including employee retention, increased employee productivity and improved workplace safety.

Productivity. Another misconception is that employees with disabilities are less productive than their peers. One of the country’s leading disability-inclusive employers, Walgreen’s, conducted a study to measure the effectiveness of its disability hiring strategy within its distribution centers. Among the three areas the study examined was the productivity, safety and turnover among its staff with and without disabilities. The study concluded that Walgreens’ employees with disabilities typically outperform or perform at the same level as their colleagues without disabilities, while also experiencing less safety-related incidents and remaining in their positions for longer.

On a macro-level, disability-inclusive companies are also proven to perform better than their industry counterparts. A landmark study conducted by Accenture in 2018 shows that businesses that prioritize diversity and inclusion within their workforce outperform their industry peers and are better able to respond to business challenges.

Difficulty finding talent. The labor force with disabilities has historically been—and remains—underemployed relative to the overall national labor force. The unemployment rate among jobseekers with disabilities is 1.5 times that of jobseekers without disabilities. Despite recent data showing a narrowing employment gap between graduates with and without disabilities, graduates with disabilities report that they are more likely to get part-time or temporary positions and earn on average less than their peers without disabilities. Qualified talent is out there, but due to the barriers to employment, many of these jobseekers with disabilities remain invisible to employers that could benefit immensely from their skill.

For the first time in history, business leaders are realizing that hiring jobseekers with disabilities is not simply the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do for their business. Despite that, many businesses get stuck trying to figure out where to start in their disability inclusion efforts. Here are some achievable steps to getting YOUR business started on a path to a stronger and more inclusive diversity strategy:

Create a group of champions. As a first step, establish a core group of passionate individuals within your business that are willing to dedicate time and resources toward advancing your initiative. This group should include people from a variety of different departments and leadership levels within the company so that there are as many diverse perspectives and skillsets represented as possible.

Cultivate buy-in. Creating a disability-inclusive workplace requires that changes be made to an organization’s culture, operations, recruiting and hiring practices, and many other facets. Now that the business case has been made, your champions need to create an airtight pitch and messaging campaign to inform staff and leadership at multiple levels of the “how” and the “why” to have a disability-inclusive workplace.

Develop partnerships with local and national disability organizations. Once your internal support is secured, the next step is to seek out the expertise from local and national disability agencies to familiarize yourselves with the local disability community and find that aforementioned talent. Establishing your business as a disability-inclusive employer to the surrounding disability community is an important step toward getting individuals with disabilities to join your team.

Start small. It is important to keep an eye on the big picture and how to fold disability inclusion into multiple facets of your organization, but it is even more important to start small to develop a sound strategy that can be scaled in the future. Start small and aim for small wins before scaling.

Thinking about starting a disability hiring initiative? Contact The Arc@Work.

Helping Employers “Bring Their A Game” to Workplace Mental Health

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A desk covered in work essentials and a notepad with the words "mental health" written on it.

By the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN)

The challenges brought to daily life in 2020, coupled with an increased understanding about the prevalence of mental health conditions, is spurring employers to consider strategies they can use to support employees’ mental health.

To help employers learn how to cultivate a welcoming and supportive work environment for employees with mental health conditions, the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN) created a Mental Health Toolkit centered around four pillars referred to as the “4 A’s of a Mental Health-Friendly Workplace.” The toolkit also provides summaries of research and examples of mental health initiatives implemented by employers of varying sizes and industries.

The first “A” of the four pillars, awareness, involves strategies for educating employers and workers about mental health issues and taking action to foster a supportive workplace culture. One example of an organization’s efforts in this area is professional services firm EY’s “We Care” campaign. This internal campaign uses personal stories, including those shared by company leadership, to educate employees about mental health conditions, reduce stigma, and encourage them to support one another.

The second “A” in the “4 A’s” is accommodations, meaning providing employees with mental health conditions the supports they need to perform their job. Common examples include flexible work arrangements and/or schedules, which may be considered reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act, and other disability nondiscrimination laws and regulations.

An example of accommodations for someone with a mental health condition are those provided by defense contractor Northrop Grumman for an employee who is a veteran with service-connected disabilities, including post-traumatic stress disorder. The employee uses several workplace accommodations to ensure his workplace success, including noise-cancelling headphones and bringing his service dog to work with him.

The third “A,” assistance, refers to assisting employees who have, or may develop, a mental health condition. Many employers do this through formal employee assistance programs (EAPs). An example of this in action is chemical and pharmaceutical manufacturer DuPont, which has a long history with EAPs. In fact, DuPont is regarded as having one of the first.

Today, DuPont has a number of internal initiatives focused on mental health and employee wellbeing, with strong support from top leadership. As an example, DuPont’s global EAP team created and implemented an internal anti-stigma campaign called “ICU” (“I See You”), the centerpiece of which is an animated video about how to recognize signs of emotional distress in colleagues and encourage them to seek help. Based on its success, DuPont decided to make the program available to all employers, free of charge, through a partnership with the Center for Workplace Mental Health.

EAPs are associated with larger businesses, but it is important to note that there are strategies small businesses can use to offer EAP services, for example, by banding together to negotiate for better rates. Business membership groups such as chambers of commerce or trade associations may be of assistance in this regard. In fact, providing employee assistance in the small business environment can be especially important, given that decreased productivity or the absence of even one employee can have a significant impact on a small organization.

The final “A,” access, encourages employers to assess company healthcare plans to ensure or increase coverage for behavioral/mental health treatment, something shown to benefit not only individuals, but also companies by way of the bottom line. According to the American Psychiatric Association, more than 80 percent of employees treated for mental health conditions report improved levels of efficiency and satisfaction at work.

An example of a company with a strong focus on providing access to mental health services for its employers is global pharmaceutical company Lundbeck, which engages in the research, development, and sale of drugs for psychiatric and neurological disorders. According to company representatives, educating about and decreasing stigma associated with mental health is one of Lundbeck’s core corporate beliefs—and this applies not only externally, but also internally for its employees. Reflecting this, prescription medications for mental health conditions are available to employees or their dependents at no cost when prescribed by a physician. Further, all benefits information sent to employees leading up to the company’s healthcare plan open enrollment period prominently feature mental health messaging.

For companies that are federal contractors, taking steps to foster a mental health-friendly workplace can have additional benefits by helping demonstrate an overall commitment to disability inclusion. As a result, employees with mental health conditions may feel more comfortable self-identifying as having a disability, which helps employers measure their progress toward goals under Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act. Federal contractors, and all businesses, can use EARN’s Mental Health Toolkit to learn how to “bring their A game” when it comes to workplace mental health.

Click here to access EARN’s Mental Health Toolkit.

Can You Hire a Deaf Employee When the Job Requires Phone Work?

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Two deaf individuals talking through sign language

By AnnMarie Killian

Imagine this: You are hiring for a job that requires phone work…but the person sitting in front of you is deaf/hard of hearing.

You may be wonder, can a person who is deaf/hard of hearing use the phone successfully?

The answer is yes.

And consider this: Companies and corporations are actively seeking out people with differences. Diversity and inclusion are not just buzzwords—they’re real-life practices that today’s companies are required to implement. Diverse teams and inclusive environments produce an organizational culture that is beneficial to the bottom line.

Yet, at first glance, managers and human resources personnel may be reluctant to consider a deaf/hard of hearing person for a job because of presumed limitations.

They may be wondering:

  • If a person can’t hear in the normal range, how can they manage parts of the job that require audio communication?
  • If a person can’t hear in the normal range, how will they communicate?
  • If a person can’t hear in the normal range, can they really do the job?

And…

  • If the job requires phone work, can a deaf/hard of hearing person really handle that aspect of the job?

The reluctance from employers to consider deaf/hard of hearing for jobs that involve phone work often comes from fear of the unknown. If you’ve never met a deaf/hard of hearing person doing the work that you’re hiring for, you might hesitate or even refuse to consider hiring that person.

Technological advances have leveled the playing field in many professions. In many cases, deaf and hard of hearing people bring a different perspective to a job that a person with hearing in the normal range may not have.

You’ll find deaf and hard of hearing people in all kinds of jobs, even those that are considered “impossible” for a deaf/hard of hearing person to be employed in. Surgeons. Lawyers. Auto shop managers. Airplane mechanics. Pharmacists. Audiologists. Bartenders. Musicians. Restaurant servers. Firefighters. NASA launch team specialists.

Even at call centers—which require being on the phone all hours of the job!

For example, Dale McCord works as a Purchase Card Specialist and his job requires frequent phone contact with vendors. “In the past, I occasionally came across managers who were reluctant to hire me for jobs because of perceived ‘limitations,’” Dale explains. “I’m a loyal and hard-working person and today’s technology allows me to do my job very well.”

Dale also has some advice for those who hire: “When you hire a person with a disability, don’t doubt their ability to do the job—because they will often do the job twice as well.”

Today’s technology has made telephone communication accessible in a variety of ways, including captioned phones and videophones. Deaf and hard of hearing individuals can make and receive calls via Video Relay Services such as ZVRS and Purple Video Relay Services.

By utilizing a videophone, a deaf/hard of hearing person is capable of working via phone. The person on the other end of the line does not necessarily know the conversation is woven with two languages, facilitated by a qualified, highly-skilled interpreter.

Here are some frequently asked questions about using Video Relay Services:

How does a deaf/hard of hearing person use a phone with a Video Relay System?

Both ZVRS and Purple provide equipment and software that routes a phone call through a video relay system.  The deaf/hard of hearing individual accesses a phone conversation by watching a sign language interpreter on a video screen. The deaf/hard of hearing individual can respond via sign language (the interpreter will voice a translation) or by using their own voice. The conversation flows back and forth between a deaf/hard of hearing individual and a hearing person with an interpreter translating the conversation seamlessly.

Can a deaf/hard of hearing person answer an inbound call?

Yes, calls can be routed through a phone number assigned to a videophone.  A visual alert system will notify the deaf/hard of hearing person that a call is coming through. With the press of a button, the call can be answered.

Our network is extremely secure–will a videophone work with our network?

ZVRS and Purple can provide equipment that is encrypted and works with firewalls. The systems are ADA compliant and integrated within your network. Our teams work directly with network system managers to ensure secure connections.

Where can I find more information about phone solutions for potential deaf/hard of hearing employees?

Click here to access Purple Business Solutions

Click here to access Enterprise Solutions/ZVRS

Click here to access ZVRS

A passionate and people-centric leader, AnnMarie is vice president of diversity and inclusion for Purple Communications. She brings over 25 plus years of diverse experience in telecommunications, retail and fitness. As a Deaf individual, she is intimately familiar with the challenges of engagement and inclusion, which has influenced her professional aspirations. Recently, AnnMarie served as the vice president of operations responsible for leading key deliverables for increasing profitability, growing revenue and maximizing operational efficiencies.

Seven Steps to Building a Disability-Inclusive Workplace

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A wheel listing the seven accessibility points mentioned throughout the article

By the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN)

October marks the 75th observance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). While the past 75 years have seen groundbreaking developments, including the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, when it comes to disability inclusion in the workplace, there’s still work to be done.

In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) reports that, in June 2020, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities was 16.5 percent, compared to 11 percent for people without disabilities.

Many employers want to establish diverse workforces that include people with disabilities but don’t know how to do so. The Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN) can help. EARN is a free resource funded by ODEP that provides information and tools to help employers recruit, hire, advance, and retain people with disabilities. EARN’s Inclusion@Work Framework, which was developed in collaboration with employers with exemplary practices in disability employment, outlines core components of a disability-inclusive workplace, along with a menu of strategies for achieving them. From disability-inclusive recruitment practices to effective communication, here are seven ways companies can foster disability inclusion at work:

Lead the Way

The foundation for a disability-inclusive work environment is an inclusive business culture. This begins by gaining buy-in from executive leadership. Examples of best practices for fostering an inclusive culture include:

  • Making equal employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities an integral part of the company’s strategic mission.
  • Establishing a team that includes executives with disabilities to support the recruiting, hiring, retention, and advancement of individuals with disabilities.
  • Conducting employee engagement surveys to gather input on whether the workplace environment is accessible and inclusive.

Build the Pipeline

Proactive outreach and recruitment of people with disabilities is the foundation of a successful workplace disability inclusion program. To build a pipeline of applicants, employers should work to develop relationships with a variety of recruitment sources. Best practices for disability-inclusive outreach and recruitment practices include partnering with local and state service providers (such as vocational rehabilitation agencies), participating in employer networking groups, attending career fairs for people with disabilities, and providing inclusive mentoring and internship opportunities.

Hire (& Keep) the Best

Building a disability-inclusive organization means not only attracting and recruiting qualified individuals with disabilities but also ensuring policies and processes across the employment lifecycle support the hiring, retention, and advancement of employees with disabilities. Companies should have effective policies and processes in place for job announcements, qualification standards, hiring, workplace accommodations, career development and advancement, and retention and promotion.

 Ensure Productivity

All employees need the right tools and work environment to effectively perform their jobs. Employees with disabilities may need workplace adjustments—or accommodations—to maximize their productivity. Examples of workplace accommodations include automatic doors, sign language interpreters, and flexible work schedules or telework. According to the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), more than half of all workplace accommodations cost nothing to provide. Furthermore, JAN research has found that most employers report financial benefits from providing accommodations, including reduced insurance and training costs and increased productivity.

Communicate

Attracting qualified individuals with disabilities requires clear communication, both externally and internally, about your company’s commitment to disability inclusion. This can include internal campaigns, disability-inclusive marketing, and participation in disability-related job fairs and awareness events. Best practices for communication of company policies and procedures can include:

  • Incorporating disability imagery into advertising and marketing materials.
  • Informing local disability organizations about company sponsored career days.
  • Distributing information about relevant disability policies and priorities to subcontractors, vendors, and suppliers.

Be Tech Savvy

As technology continues to shift, so does the concept of accessibility. Being able to get through the physical door is no longer enough to ensure people with disabilities can apply and interview for jobs; a company’s “virtual doors” must be open as well. Furthermore, once on the job, employees with disabilities—like all employees—must be able to access the information and communication technology (ICT) they need to maximize their productivity. Examples of best practices for ensuring accessible ICT include using accessible online recruiting platforms, adopting a formal ICT policy, appointing a chief accessibility officer, and establishing clear procurement policies related to accessibility.

Measure Success

While policies and procedures are necessary to enhance employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities, the ultimate objective should be to ensure effective implementation. Companies can take steps to ensure disability becomes part of their overall diversity goals and can encourage self-identification of disability by their employees to benchmark the impact of disability inclusion efforts. Examples of best practices for accountability and self-identification include providing training on disability-related issues, establishing accountability measures and processes for self-identification, and incorporating disability inclusion goals in appropriate personnel’s performance plans.

 

Visit AskEARN.org to learn more about creating a disability-inclusive workplace.

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