Target, Disney Expand Costume Options For Those With Special Needs

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tow children pose in their disability-friendly costumes provided by Target

With Halloween fast approaching, some major retailers are dramatically expanding the costume choices for kids and adults with disabilities.

Target and Disney are introducing a slew of new costumes with special accessibility features such as open backs to make dressing easier, hidden openings for abdominal access and wheelchair-friendly fits.

Target is doubling its collection of adaptive costumes — which were first released last year — with more choices and by including offerings in adult sizes in addition to children’s.

“Whether you’re simply getting dressed every day or dressing up for special moments like Halloween, everyone deserves to feel included and celebrated,” said Julie Guggemos, Target’s senior vice president and chief design officer. “And at Target, we know that great, inclusive design makes all the difference.”

Target’s adaptive costumes range from $20 to $35 and are available on the retailer’s website.

Continue on to Disability Scoop to read the complete 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.

7 Steps to Make Your Virtual Presentations Accessible

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A woman giving a powerpoint presentation to a group of co-workers

By Devin Boyle

With the rapid rise of telework, the PEAT team recognizes it’s more important than ever to make sure virtual presentations are accessible.

These efforts allow all participants, particularly people with disabilities, to effectively engage with presented content. Below, you’ll find seven essential steps and related resources to help you create accessible presentations.

Before and During Your Presentation

Step 1: Research

Before hosting a virtual presentation, identify all accessibility features of the online platform you intend to use. The following websites discuss accessibility features for several commonly used platforms for webinars, virtual conferences, and other collaborative activities:

  •  Adobe Connect Google G Suite
  • Microsoft Teams
  •  Slack (keyboard accessibility, screen reader accessibility)
  •  Workplace by Facebook
  •  Zoom

Step 2: Need Sensing

When sending invitations to join your virtual presentation, encourage participants to share their requirements and accommodation needs to engage effectively in your event. For example, you could craft a request like this:

“We strive to host an inclusive and accessible presentation. Accessible materials will be distributed to participants in advance, and live captioning will be provided during the event. If you have questions about the accessibility of our presentation, or want to request accommodations, please reach out to [add name] at [add email].”

Step 3: Put Systems in Place

Before your live event starts, check off these critical to-do items first:

  • Adjust your platform settings to record your presentation. Though this may not be specifically requested, it’s helpful for everyone to access content after the live event concludes.
  • Arrange captioning for your presentation in advance (such as through the Federal Relay Service for government employees or another service provider).
  • Secure sign language interpreters—if requested.

Step 4: Create Accessible Materials

In advance of your presentation, create and share accessible slide decks and other presentation materials with the audience. Sending your materials ahead of time ensures that participants have access to electronic versions in case they encounter accessibility issues during the live event. Consider these resources for creating accessible presentations and documents in Word (or another software application for word processing):

  • How to Make Presentations Accessible to All
  • PowerPoint Accessibility
  •  Best Practices for Making Word Documents Accessible

Step 5: Prepare Speaker(s)

For a presentation to be fully accessible, speakers must understand how to use key features of the online platform and convey content in a manner that promotes accessibility. Participants with certain disabilities can absorb information better and more effectively engage in presentations when the speaker(s) follows recommendations for accessible communication.

We also suggest conducting a preparatory or dry-run session with the presenters in advance to verify their familiarity and comfort with the run of show and platform controls (e.g., screen sharing, muting/unmuting audio, etc.).

After Your Presentation

Step 6: Share Materials

After the event concludes, disseminate a recording of your presentation and the transcript to participants. This best practice enhances the accessibility of the information you shared and affords people with and without disabilities more opportunities to review and better understand the content you presented.

Step 7: Ask for Feedback

When sharing materials from your presentation, ask participants for feedback on the content of the presentation, its utility, and their experiences with the accessibility of your virtual event.

Additional Resources

  • Learn more about how to foster accessibility for all your digital materials (e.g., emails, PDFs, social media posts, etc.) by reviewing PEAT’s digital accessibility basics
  • Watch a recording and access PowerPoint slides from this recent presentation: “Creating and Hosting an Accessible Online Presentation”
  • Utilize additional tips for virtual meetings and presentations: “Accessibility Tips for a Better Zoom/Virtual Meeting Experience”
  • Use PEAT’s Buy IT tool when evaluating a meeting platform for purchase

Devin Boyle is a consultant for PEAT supporting efforts to ensure new technologies, such as autonomous vehicles and X-Reality, are born accessible. She has more than 10 years of experience in policy analysis and development, stakeholder engagement, strategic communication, advocacy and partnership building.

Source: Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT)

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.

Digital Accessibility: Why It’s More Vital Than Ever

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Headshot of Elizabeth Stephen

By Elizabeth Stephen, VP of Customer Engagement at Striata, The Americas

In a matter of weeks, COVID-19 achieved what years of lobbying and education has not—convincing organizations of the importance of making sure digital assets, like websites, emails and mobile apps, are easy to use and simple to navigate.

With the sudden upswing in digital demand and the almost overnight disappearance of physical interactions, it’s become clear how someone who cannot leave their home is forced to rely on digital channels, and how frustrating it is for them if those digital channels are not optimized for accessibility. This is a regular experience for people living with disabilities and COVID-19 has forced people to have empathy for those with the need for digital access.

Making online content more accessible means ensuring that all people can read and understand it—taking into account any disabilities they may have or assistive devices they could be using to access it. This includes those with disabilities such as impaired vision, motor difficulties, cognitive impairments or learning disabilities, deafness or impaired hearing. In fact, stats from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 61-million (or 1 in 4) adults in the US have some form of disability.

The pandemic has accelerated the rate of digital transformation and with it, the need for digital accessibility. People with disabilities, who previously may have relied on physical interactions (when shopping, banking etc.), are now also being forced to interact via digital channels instead. It is therefore imperative that organizations consider this segment. They can start by assessing the accessibility level of all their digital content and changing the copy as well as layout/design where necessary. Taking these steps will not only ensure that digital content can be consumed and understood by all, but that it also complies with accessibility laws.

Some common accessibility standards include ensuring websites and emails are easily navigable on a mobile device or via keyboard only and creating PDF documents that can be read by screen readers by avoiding text with a poor color contrast.

Before the pandemic hit, while physical interactions were still acceptable and in-store visits more common, email was already a popular communication channel for many consumers and businesses alike. Now, with the recent, sudden, and unprecedented restrictions of movement imposed by governments across the globe, companies have been forced to adjust their communication or risk losing touch with customers.

It is not surprising that a large number of companies turned to email as the channel of choice to reach out to customers with information about their business continuity plans.

The result was a deluge of emails from brands wanting to make contact with customers and reassure them that new, digital ways of applying, buying and transacting would return things to business as usual. But if customers aren’t able to access those emails in spite of their disabilities, there can be no “business as usual.” Fortunately, a report from Level Access shows that 67 percent of US-based businesses felt compelled to implement inclusion to be truly inclusive of persons with disabilities.

Meanwhile, some 45 percent implemented a standard, organizational-wide approach to accessibility. They could do far worse than to start with email.
The pandemic has emphasized the undeniable value of these communications, and as the value of email is a channel for everyone, it makes sense for organizations to put energy into making email accessibility a key focus in their digital accessibility strategy.

Elizabeth Stephen is the VP of Customer Engagement for the Americas, overseeing all commercial business and channel management in North and South America. For the past decade, Liz has managed teams of sales groups both nationally and internationally. She has a true passion for helping customers identify their needs and consulting with them to help fill those needs. Since joining Striata, Liz has taken a keen interest in Customer Communications Management (CCM) and helping clients utilize digital communications to meet their CX goals.

Cultivating a ‘Deliberately Diverse’ Approach in Accounting & Advisory Fields

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A woamn working at a desk with a computer and a calculator

By Joanne Cleaver

Grant Thornton, the northern Virginia office of international accounting and advisory firm, had a problem.

The office is located in the Washington, D.C. metro, one of the most racially diverse areas in America, with an especially strong representation of Black professionals.

And, many of the firm’s clients were government agencies or top-tier suppliers to government agencies—two types of organizations highly attuned to racial diversity.

Carlos Otal, head of the office and managing partner for Grant Thornton’s public sector services and solutions practice, knew that clients expected more than a reflection of their own diverse staff. They expected Grant Thornton to live up to the diversity priorities it stated in its website and pitch materials.

But how would the firm foster diverse client engagement teams when the accounting and advisory profession was, and is, overwhelmingly white and male?

By cultivating a ‘deliberately diverse’ approach to assembling teams.

Otal “cracked the code” by figuring out the key dynamics of how diverse teams deliver on the diversity promise of better ideas and greater innovation to elevate client service. Then, he aligned the process of picking teams to ensure that no demographic dominated. That shifted the group dynamic: when each individual operated in his or her own strength, free from the expectation of representing their identity, the group quickly recognized each member’s strengths and contributions. Those strengths combined in fresh ways to bring clients new ideas and solutions.

Thanks to ongoing research by the Accounting & Financial Women’s Alliance, accounting and advisory firms have a deep well of diversity best practices to draw on, from Grant Thornton and other leading firms. The AFWA’s reports illustrate to W/MBE’s how firms are pursuing diverse talent and suppliers.

The accounting and advisory profession lags when it comes to diversity.

Blacks are significantly under-represented in the accounting and advisory profession, at only 3 percent of employees. Hispanics comprise 6 percent of employees; Asians, 11 percent; and biracial employees, 4 percent, while Native Americans are virtually absent, according to the 2020 Accounting MOVE Project, an annual research and advocacy effort that measures and supports the advancement of women and women of color at CPA firms. It is produced by content firm Wilson-Taylor Associates, Inc., in partnership with the Accounting & Financial Women’s Alliance.

As accounting and advisory firms seek new avenues for growth, they are realizing that diverse talent drives innovation, and innovation is what clients want when they hire a pricey firm to guide them through new market and financial opportunities.

Otal’s lightbulb moment pivoted on changing the definition of “meritocracy.” CPA and advisory firms tend to believe that billable hours create meritocracy, in dollars and culture. But sustainable firm success is grounded in client relationship skills, business development and talent growth—characteristics that are not easily quantified and that often don’t fit into the billable hours construct.

As Otal worked with leaders in his office, the team realized early on that they needed to diversify the office’s talent pipeline from the bottom up and to change the culture at midlevel from the outside in.

And retention pivoted on changing how professionals defined success. “You can’t just say you want diversity,” Otal says. “You have to be intentional. We use metrics and data to tell you who is doing what. But then we spend a lot of time looking beyond the data. What are the impacts this person has made beyond the hours billed and the sales numbers? “

Otal realized that young professionals need to see a wider spectrum of leadership styles, backgrounds, and career paths. That’s how the office’s “bottom up” strategy intersected with its “outside in” strategy. Otal’s team sought midcareer recruits with a wider range of ethnic and personal backgrounds. The Alexandria office has now pulled ahead of national benchmarks for racial diversity.

“We’ve realized we have to be even more intentional about diversity when we have even more data. Sometimes you say, ‘It’s not if this person gets promoted. It’s when,’” says Otal. “So, what are we waiting for? Let’s go ahead and promote this person. We know we want to. When we’re intentional about diversity, it changes the dynamic. Then that changes the data,” he said, referring to employee demographics.

At Grant Thornton’s Alexandria office, greater racial and gender diversity changed the way teams collaborated and solved problems. And that showed young professionals that the firm was capitalizing on diversity—and that their own varied perspectives were essential for their career success.

This article is based on the 2019 CPA Firm Diversity Report. Find more trends and tools for working with leading accounting and advisory firms at the Accounting & Financial Women’s Alliance website: afwa.org/move-project/

SUNRISE MEDICAL announces three upgrades for the QUICKIE power portfolio: C-Me® expansion, the option to Tilt and Elevate and introducing the new SEDEO® LITE Seating System

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Q500 SEDEO LITE

In striving to meet the needs of more clients, Sunrise Medical is excited to introduce three upgrades to its QUICKIE power portfolio:

–C-Me – Elevate and Drive functionality on both the Q500 M and Q400 M.
–Tilt and Elevate combination – Customers no longer have to choose tilt only or elevate only.
–The SEDEO LITE Seat – One of the lightest seating systems to be introduced in North America. The Lite seat includes traditional back canes to mount JAY® and other off the shelf aftermarket backs at a fraction of the weight of other seating systems.

With C-Me, clients can achieve the independence they are looking for. Drive up to 3 MPH while elevated up to 12″ without needing to stop while transitioning. Highly popular on the Q700 M, and now also available on the Q500 M, and the Q400 M, clients will never have to compromise dependability for accessibility again. And thanks to a suspension that doesn’t lock out when you drive with C-Me, the ride is smooth and comfortable from start to finish.

The new SEDEO LITE seating system is an adjustable seat frame giving you a simple, sleek look. As one of the lightest seating systems in the market, the Q500 M equipped with SEDEO LITE seating has a starting weight of 266 lbs., making it a great solution for many hitch-mounted lifts. The traditional back canes are width-adjustable from 15” to 20” and easily fit JAY backs and most aftermarket back supports.

“We are excited to expand our popular features and options on the line of QUICKIE power wheelchairs with the addition of C-Me and SEDEO LITE on the Q500 M” said Jeff Rogers, Director of Power Product Management. “C-Me has been a highly demanded feature on other QUICKIE power wheelchair models and it only made sense to expand the feature to a smaller wheel base. With the addition of the SEDEO LITE, we have a full line of seating frame options from mild to complex clinical needs.”

Learn more about C-Me and the new SEDEO LITE seating system by visiting SunriseMedical.com.

About Sunrise Medical: A world leader in the development, design, manufacture and distribution of manual wheelchairs, power wheelchairs, motorized scooters and both standard and customized seating and positioning systems, Sunrise Medical manufactures products in their own facilities in the United States, Mexico, Germany, United Kingdom, Spain, China, Holland, and Poland. Sunrise Medical’s key products, marketed under the QUICKIE®, Sopur, ZIPPIE®, Sterling, JAY®, WHITMYER® and SWITCH-ITTM proprietary brands, are sold through a network of homecare medical product dealers or distributors in more than 130 countries. The company is headquartered in Malsch, Germany, with North American headquarters in Fresno, Calif., and employs more than 2,200 associates worldwide.

How Kindness Changed the Life of this Child with Cerebal Palsy

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Briella riding her scooter

By Paige Long 

“Now more than ever, during these uncertain times, we need to be more kind,” said Caroline Naif.

The Michigan mother of a determined 6-year-old living with cerebral palsy (CP) wants you to understand how kindness has made a difference in her daughter’s life.

“We are all facing challenges daily and life looks a little different for each of us, but we can and we will get through this if we work together, be patient and respect one another,” she said. Caroline’s daughter, Briella, was diagnosed with CP at 21 months old. This is the most common motor disability in children, caused by abnormal development or damage to the parts of the brain that control movement, balance and posture. CP looks different in each individual, and in Briella’s case, her speech and leg mobility are affected.

“Briella was born six weeks early, weighing only 3 pounds and 11 ounces, and spent the first 24 days of her life in the NICU. By her first birthday, Briella wasn’t hitting all of her mobility milestones, and right away, we admitted her into physical and occupational therapies. Later, an MRI scan revealed Briella had Spastic Diplegia Cerebral Palsy, caused by a lack of oxygen, either shortly before or after her birth,” said Naif.

Doctors told Caroline that her daughter may never walk or talk on her own.

At three-and-a-half, Briella had Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy, a life-changing lower spinal surgery to get rid of the spasticity and tightness in her legs to strengthen her mobility. This procedure also allows a more independent lifestyle. Briella took her first steps four months after her surgery.

“When you receive a diagnosis, you never know what to expect or how life will look down the road. Our family has gotten to where we are today by lots of research, faith, patience, inspiration and the friendships of other amazing warrior families through social media.”

Briella continues to become stronger and more independent with the physical and emotional support of Variety the Children’s Charity of Detroit – one of the international children’s charity’s 45 “tents.”

Briella, who has been a “Variety Kid” since age 2, received an adaptive bike, which she can pedal and steer by herself, rode Max the horse in the nonprofit’s equestrian riding program, and even modeled in the annual Variety SHINE Fashion show. Through Variety’s mission to simply serve Detroit-area kids, no matter the need, Briella’s never-give-up attitude has blossomed, and she took her first 100 independent steps without her walker earlier this year.

“Briella is a shining example of why Variety is committed to serving kids through programs that enable and empower mobility, confidence and independence. The support and services that Variety provides are simply life-changing, and we are proud to be a small step on Briella’s journey to walk,” said David King, President of Variety the Children’s Charity of Detroit. Briella’s story and involvement in Variety programs were recently featured in a national webcast by the clothing brand Justice.

Over the last 12 months, Briella also started talking in full sentences and began to read. Caroline is encouraged to see Briella’s communication and physical strength grow. “We are finally starting to hear her sweet voice, and it is priceless. She works so hard at school, in therapy and at home as we work toward her goals. My husband and I have seen the growth, and Briella is more centered and aware of her body, giving her less fear to tackle different movement and mobility challenges in physical therapy and daily living.”

Despite meeting challenges many kids her age will never have to consider, she continues on with determination and greets each obstacle with a smile. Briella loves to play, swim, ride her bike, go horseback riding, read books, work with arts and crafts, and attend school and physical therapy. Briella loves to play veterinarian with her stuffed animals and talks about someday being a teacher or working with animals.

“Briella has many goals to keep working towards as she grows from child to teen to adult,” said Caroline. “Ultimately, it’s getting her comfortable with daily living skills and having her involved in the process as much as possible, whether that’s helping brushing her own teeth, getting dressed or assisting with meals. We want Briella to be as comfortable and independent as possible, but at the same time, want her to be able to express her feelings and ask for help when needed.”

“Our world is starting to become more adaptive and inclusive for kids like Briella, but unfortunately, we still have a long way to go by making buildings, stores, schools, playgrounds- you name it- more adaptable and accessible for kids and adults who have mobility issues.”

Briella is a shining example of someone who has, and will continue to surpass expectations with unmatched determination.

You can follow Briella and Caroline’s journey on Facebook and Instagram at Briella + Me.

Jeanine Cook is the 2020 Winner of the Richard A. Tapia Achievement Award

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Jeanine Cook with her horse

Jeanine Cook, a principal member of technical staff at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico in the Scalable Architectures department at the Computer Science Research Institute, has received the 2020 Richard A. Tapia Achievement Award for Scientific Scholarship, Civic Science and Diversifying Computing.

The award was presented for her many achievements in computer science research in the areas of high-performance computing, performance characterization and modeling, hardware accelerator technologies, edge-computing, large-scale system monitoring and data analytics; her work in diversifying computer science for the disabled; and her teaching and mentorship of students while an associate professor at New Mexico State University. The award was presented by Richard Tapia at the 2020 ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference.

Raised by her parents in Colorado, Cook’s father, a physics PhD., inspired his daughters in their love of computers from an early age. Her mother was a home maker whose own mother came from New Mexico while it was still part of Mexico. Jeanine chose to pursue a BS in Electrical Engineering at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. It was in her second semester at college that her life changed.

Driving home one night she fell asleep at the wheel and drove off an embankment. She broke her back and severely damaged her spinal cord. She soon realized that she had decisions to make on how to live her life. She made a critical decision to choose life, joy and positivity. She was lucky to have many friends who came to see her in the hospital and rehab facility to not only support her but to learn how to enable her to continue on her chosen path. Friends learned how to assist with her self-care, assemble and disassemble her wheelchairs so they could be transported and encouraged her constantly. The incredible outpouring of support and her very close family enabled her to continue her education.

“My friends changed my life. They stood by me and supported me when they really didn’t have to. Because they loved me and encouraged me, I was able to be happy and positive about my future,” said Cook.

Jeanine received her BS and continued with her master’s degree at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She decided to pursue a PhD program. While many of the East Coast Universities had very attractive programs, she realized that many of their campuses were not wheelchair accessible. She attended New Mexico State University and received her PhD in Electrical Engineering. She then joined the university as an associate professor. During her eleven-year tenure, she graduated eight PhD students and twelve Masters theses students. She was extremely successful in securing research funding, and in 2009 received the Presidential Career Award for Scientists and Engineers from President George Bush and the Frank Bromilow Excellence In Research Award from the College of Engineering, New Mexico State University.

While teaching she also became involved in a wide array of diversity and inclusion programs focused on people with disabilities. One of her early lessons came from attending a diversity workshop in a hotel in Florida.

The hotel itself was not accessible which she discovered her first morning there. She ended up falling and had to be moved to a hotel down the road. This renewed her resolve to become even more involved to make sure that accessibility was part of diversity and inclusion in computing. She participated in the Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) of the National Science Foundation (NSF) as an external subcommittee member and was active in the Development of the CISE Strategic Plan for Broadening Participation. She was a leader in BPC programs focused on getting people with disabilities introduced to computer science at an early age. She developed and delivered workshops all over Pennsylvania, Texas and Colorado—anywhere there were populations of disabled people. These workshops provided information on how to fund college, navigate campuses and pursue their academic careers. She has also been involved in capacity building work with AccessComputing and delivered talks at CAHSI (Computing Alliance of Hispanic-Serving Institutions). Additionally, Cook is a member of the Center for Minorities and People with Disabilities in Informational Technology (CMD-IT) board.

After teaching for 11 years, Cook reached a turning point. She was feeling burnt out from the load of both teaching, raising money for projects and the research. A colleague from Sandia National Laboratory called to ask her to take on an additional project. She simply proposed, “Why don’t you just hire me?” Joining Sandia National Laboratory was a better solution for her physically and allowed her to enjoy her passion for horses and riding.

“My accident gave me a greater appreciation for life at an early age. I learned a lot about myself and other people,” Cook said. “Life is a daily struggle and nothing is easy except rolling downhill. The people in my life that embraced me, stood by and encouraged me when they didn’t have to gave me the ability to make the decision to not let the accident ruin my life or stop me from enjoying life.”

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.

Air Force Civilian Service

Air Force Civilian Service

Verizon

Verizon

Robert Half