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HUFFINGTON POST BLOG By CAROL GLAZER, President, National Organization on Disability
In a race for talent, companies are now realizing that people with disabilities are a largely untapped pool that, as a result, has seen unemployment rates remain stubbornly high when compared to the general population. So when an employer the size of Starbucks plants a flag and says it is going to make this a priority, others are likely to follow.
My experience has been that this kind of an effort only succeeds if it is backed by a strong leader who chooses to make disability hiring a priority. That was certainly the case at Walgreens, where former executive Randy Lewis, whose son is autistic, spearheaded one of the most successful disability-hiring initiatives in recent years. At Starbucks, that person is Deverl Maserang, who heads up the company’s global supply chain organization. For leaders like Randy or Deverl, this is not about charity. It’s actually quite the opposite. They need talented men and women who can perform at high levels of productivity. They’ve simply decided not to allow the typical stereotypes to stand in their way of finding outstanding employees who can contribute to the overall success of their organizations.
U.S. Labor Department’s Director of Compliance Patricia Shiu says it’s time for federal contractors to hire more individuals with disabilities. NOD’s Disability Employee Tracker can help companies employ typically non-traditional talent.
The onus is on federal contractors to meet a 7 percent employment goal within their companies for people with disabilities — and, at the very least, companies are required to show progress toward meeting that goal.
There are several tasks a federal contractor must complete to stay in line with Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act, and while the U.S. Department of Labor considered 2015 a transition period for companies to get up to speed, Patricia Shiu, Director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, said last month that “the waiting period is over.”
During the Corporate Forum in Washington, D.C., Shiu said it is unlikely federal contractors will be sanctioned for not meeting the 7 percent mark because that goal is aspirational. “This is a process and not a switch,” Shiu said when she delivered her remarks. “Failure to achieve the 7 percent [goal] is not a violation but the failure to try probably is.”
Organizations that are welcoming disabled workers are certainly seeing the benefits. “Companies have found that people with disabilities have positive attributes that might not immediately come to mind,” says Carol Glazer, president of the National Organization on Disability. “It takes problem-solving skills, resilience, and sheer tenacity to navigate a world that isn’t necessarily built for you. If you’re navigating the streets of New York City with a wheelchair, you have to develop a lot of work-arounds. And employers are recognizing that the qualities that make good workers are not always physical strength or even cognitive capabilities, but problem-solving abilities.”
The experience and insights that employees with disabilities share also help companies better connect with a consumer base that has considerable purchasing power. “About 20 percent of the population has some sort of disability, and if you layer onto that folks who are directly impacted— caregivers, family members, friends— suddenly you’re at 50 percent of the population [...]. We want to make sure that we’re providing our products and services to all people, and that we have a true representation of a cross-ability population.”
In honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, Exelon and the National Organization on Disability (NOD) will be holding their third annual CEO Council Forum on October 16, 2015 for current and prospective members of NOD’s CEO Council, a premier corporate community committed to building a diverse and inclusive workforce.
This year’s Forum will focus on “Bridging the Gap: Recruiting and Developing Professional Talent with Disabilities.”
Featured speakers include Calvin Butler, CEO Baltimore Gas & Electric; Governor Thomas Ridge, NOD Chairman, first Secretary, U.S. Department of Homeland Security; and former Governor of Pennsylvania and Patricia Shiu, Director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs at the U.S. Department of Labor.
When Carol Glazer visited Starbucks headquarters in Seattle last fall to meet graduates from a unique training program at the company’s roasting plant in Carson City, Nevada, she wasn’t surprised to see pride in the faces of those who’d completed the course. What caught her off guard was the gratification she saw in the faces of everyone who encountered the grads.
Glazer, President of the National Organization on Disability since 2008, has been pushing for allies in its efforts to address a severe shortage of work opportunities for people with disabilities. In Starbucks, she believes she’s found a company that appreciates the payoff that comes with employing workers with disabilities.
“Starbucks is the beacon for others in corporate America,” she said. “There are a few companies that are pioneers in this field and Starbucks is one of them. Companies are beginning to understand that all the problem-solving skills and tenacity and persistence it takes to navigate a world that wasn’t built for you are terrific assets.”
The grads of the program, which Starbucks started about a year and a half ago in Nevada, were recognized Monday during an event celebrating Starbucks 20th anniversary in York. Those participating went through six weeks of training to give them experience in work like shipping and packaging. Instructors for the York program were provided by Crispus Attucks.
Carol Glazer, president of the National Organization on Disability, told the crowd that there are 30 million working-age individuals with disabilities and only 20 percent are working — a statistic that hasn’t changed since the end of World War II, she said.
“It’s not only a historic injustice, it’s a terrible waste of a huge amount of talent that could be enriching the American workforce,” she said.
Together with the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry’s Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, National Organization on Disability and Crispus Attucks Association, Starbucks Inclusion Academy Program Provides Individuals with Disabilities an Opportunity to Gain Work Experience at its Roasting Plant in York, Pennsylvania
“With more than 56 million Americans living with some form of disability, we need more companies to recognize the untapped pipeline of talent available to corporate America,” said Carol Glazer, President of the National Organization on Disability. “By collaborating on strategic initiatives like the Starbucks Inclusion Academy, NOD is taking its 30-year record of innovation to help launch effective disability employment initiatives. I applaud Starbucks for finding an innovative way to promote disability inclusion in the workplace.”
HUFFINGTON POST BLOG By CAROL GLAZER, President, National Organization on Disability
Gov. Ridge and I agree one thing companies need to do now is to rethink their hiring strategies to find skilled talent in technology. America is already lagging when it comes to STEM-skilled workers. The U.S. will have more than 1.2 million job openings in STEM - or science, technology, engineering and math - fields by 2018. And by 2020, the McKinsey Global Institute reports there will be a shortage of 95 million skilled workers.
Microsoft and SAP are two companies that are filling this STEM talent gap by hiring individuals with autism. Why? They’ve discovered that these individuals possess in-demand skills in STEM fields, especially jobs that require extreme attention to detail or repetitive tasks, like quality checking software or finding anomalies in data. Remember the character made famous by Dustin Hoffman in the film, Rain Man, who had a remarkable ability to remember numerical sequences? Those same skills can be used to help companies fill critical STEM vacancies.
The United Nations estimates that more than 1 billion people live with disabilities worldwide. In many places, they face discrimination, lack of accommodation and even a disregard for their right to exist.
The United Nations General Assembly in 2006 adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Its goal is to “promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.”
Kenneth Roman, longtime member of NOD’s Board of Directors and classmate of NOD Founder Alan Reich, retells how a group of college friends built a longstanding disability rights organization.
Some call them the “Dartmouth Mafia,” those friends and classmates who rallied around Reich after a diving accident in 1962 paralyzed him from the neck down. More than 50 years later, a decade after his death in 2005, a number of his Dartmouth friends are still there for him.
One of the earliest to visit Reich in the hospital, just 10 days after his accident, was classmate Jack Boyle ’52, who looked down at his pal, who played halfback on the football field, starred as an All-American in track and was a founder and coach of the rugby team, and commiserated about bad luck.
“Come on, Jack,” Reich shot back. “Walking’s not everything in life.”