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Rutgers Developmental Disabilities Lecture Series | Kristine Foss

Kristine Foss | Rutgers Developmental Disabilities Lecture Series | Fall 2018 | Changing Minds and Changing Lives through Disability Inclusion

Disability Solutions' Managing Director, Kristine Foss, was recently invited to speak at the Rutgers Developmental Disabilities Lecture Series on November 8, 2018.


Presentation Overview:

Working with Employers: Changing Minds and Changing Lives through Disability Inclusion

November 8, 2018- Duration 2.75 hrs

Kristine Foss, MA, SPHR

Managing Director Disability Solutions at Ability Beyond Bethel, CT

Employment professionals, leaders, advocates, and jobseekers have a shared mission based on the belief that people with disabilities can and should work, and bring talent, perspective, and innovation to the workforce. As a former HR Professional, now working nationally with Fortune 500 companies as a disability inclusion consultant, Kris has seen the common disconnects, misperceptions, and conflicting priorities that keep us from achieving our mission. She will discuss her Top 5 secrets to working with employers, including avoiding the pitfalls and traps of disability inclusion well intentioned employers, jobseekers, and providers often encounter. Strategies will be shared for daily employment service delivery, proactively creating talent partnerships with employers, working collaboratively to form networks for success, and addressing risk or misperceptions.


Full Audio Presentation:


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Rutgers DDLS Presentation Audio Table of Contents:

  1. Part One: Introducing Kris Foss, Disability Solutions at Ability Beyond

  2. Part Two: The Current Landscape of Disability Inclusion

  3. Part Three: The Value Proposition of People with Disabilities in the Workplace

  4. Part Four: Talent Trends in Demand

  5. Part Five: Compliance and Self-Identification

  6. Part Six: Top Barriers to Disability Employment

  7. Part Seven: Disability Hiring Best Practices, Results and Actions

  8. Part Eight: Disability Inclusion Success Stories - Synchrony & Pepsi

  9. Part Nine: Building a Model for Success to Prepare Candidates with Disabilities

Audio Transcript:


Part One: Introducing Kris Foss, Disability Solutions at Ability Beyond

Margaret Gilbride: Good morning. My name is Margaret Gilbride. I am the Director of Transition and Employment at the Boggs Center, which is part of Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. I would like to welcome you to the 279th session of the DD Lecture Series. We would like to gratefully acknowledge support for the series from the New Jersey Division of Developmental Disabilities and the Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities in the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Today's presentation will focus on ways we can help employers understand their businesses can thrive through disability inclusion. Despite the low unemployment rate, employers continue not to avail themselves of this untapped pool of job applicants, the applicants with disabilities. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities continue to overrepresent this large untapped resource in today's workforce.

Only 26% of New Jerseyans with a cognitive disability were employed in 2017. Those with a non-cognitive disability fared better. They had a 37% rate of employment. In comparison, the employment rate was 74% for New Jerseyans with no disability. Despite research that continues to show employees with IDD are consistently rated as good to very good on almost all performance measures, employment professionals struggle to move the needle on employment first.

We're fortunate today to have Kristine Foss, a former generalist HR leader, now working nationally with Fortune 500 companies as a disability inclusion consultant. Kris' career U-turn provides a unique perspective that we can benefit from today, understanding the pressures and goals of the HR professional, as well as the experiences and barriers encountered by jobseekers and employees with disabilities. She has shared lens into the common disconnects that often keep employers from recruiting, hiring, and promoting talent with disabilities within their workforce.

Kris leads the Disability Solutions team, drawing from a combined 20 years of strategic leadership experience in human resources, workforce development, project management, and sales and marketing. Kris and her team worked nationally with Fortune 500 clients, including PepsiCo, Synchrony Financial, American Express, AEON, and Aeromark.

During her career, Kris has developed workforce development strategies aligned with business goals and she has implemented several leadership and diversity initiatives. She currently served on several boards, including for The Bridge to Independence and Career Options, the National Alliance of Direct Support Professionals, and Elsevier's College of Direct Support National Advisory Board.

Well, I have not worked directly with Kris myself. I have had the pleasure of working with several members of her team over the years, and they never disappoint. Please join me in welcoming Kristine Foss to New Jersey.

Kris Foss: Thank you. That's a lot to live up to. Thank you. Thank you all for coming out today. I know that you're all very busy. I know the work we do day-to-day keeps us very focused on helping jobseekers find work, navigating staffing, funding. I know that it keeps us all very busy, so it really is an honor that you all chose to come and spend the morning here with all of us and to talk with me a little bit about employment for people with disabilities.


Part Two: The Current Landscape of Disability Inclusion

Kris Foss: Going back to the current landscape, one thing I can say that is really, really exciting, and it gets my team very excited, and we've seen a lot of this and I bet a lot of you are seeing this, whether it's on social media or reading articles or watching television, people with disabilities, we're finding our voice. People with disabilities, the last two years, like never before had been involved with impacting policy and politics. I mean the last presidential election was the first time I ever remember that a person with a disability was on stage talking at both the Democratic and the Republican National Convention. I've never seen that before.

Groups like RespectAbility were putting out guides to talk about what each candidate, local and national, was talking about and what their platform around disability was. I don't remember us being part of any platform before. That's a big change.

I don't know if any of you follow [Emily Liddell 00:17:10]. She's a social activist, she's a person with a disability herself. She's just an incredible writer, blogger. She's all over social media. She talks about issues with accessibility. She shares her personal experiences with everything from dating to getting through a train station and everything in between. She's incredible.

Diversabilty. We're seeing people when we're worried about healthcare policy and changes being put forward in Congress. We see National ADAPT protesting, signs. We've found our voice, and that's exciting. That's the first time I can remember, except back with the passage of the ADA, and it's been a while.

We're expanding our visibility. How many people are seeing more and more television shows or advertising either including a person with a disability or even starring a person with a disability character? We're seeing a lot of that, right? Yeah. There's some reasons for that. One is that we're finding our voice. The CDC just last month put out new numbers that said that one in four, not just one in five, as it's been for years, but one in four people in our country have some type of disability. It's a large group, 25% of our population.

Entertainment, pop culture is starting to come around. What's exciting to me is that we're not just seeing ... We've got a long way to go, but we're not just seeing a character with a disability in television shows and in movies. But Hollywood's getting a little better, it's coming along at authentic casting where, believe it or not, a person with a disability. An actor with a disability is actually playing a character with a disability. A lot of big changes, and there's a reason for this, the reason that we're seeing more advertising and besides the pure numbers, and that's that we're wielding our spending power.

This is pretty amazing to me. When we started this journey, we thought that the burning platform that companies would pay attention to, especially federal contractors with their compliance obligations, we thought, "Well, maybe if they saw that they had some high turnover areas and that this was an untapped talent, they might pay attention to this." This is opening up doors, and companies are paying attention to this.

I know it's a little small, so I'll go over this. But in the US alone, people with disabilities themselves represent $645 billion in annual spending power buying services, going on trips, spending their dollars day-to-day in stores. That's a huge customer market. Then if you add in friends and family, allies, people that are paying attention to what companies are doing in hiring people with disabilities and making products and services accessible, many of us in this room that are paying attention to what companies are doing and voting with our pocketbook, $4 trillion annual spending power. It's huge numbers, and companies love a new market, so they're paying attention.

The broader market is I think pretty amazing, too. It's the concept that if companies are designing their products and services or the experience for their customers using universal design and designing for everyone, that there's these additional benefits and market that they capture. A great example is Disney. When they design their parks, they make the thoroughfares much wider than most areas. They do that, one, for people with disabilities, but also they've got families coming through with strollers, and so they want to make sure the walkways are wide. They could have jumbled them up more with more prizes to win and food vendors, but they chose to do that. They wanted to focus on people having a good experience coming through the park.

Designing it that way was based on experience, but as a result, their studies, and they found that, wow! You know what? We're getting more people through the park every day. What is that? More money. More people coming through the park. More people, more money. That's what that broader category is. But just looking at people with disabilities and friends and family, it's a huge customer market. You're all part of that $4 trillion customer market, and companies are starting to pay attention.

When I talked to diversity executives and HR executives in these companies, they're making the connection as well with saying, "Oh, if we hire people with disabilities and we make this an inclusive culture where people feel like they can bring their whole selves to work and talk about their disabilities, they could also lend their perspective to informing our advertising, our products and services design and development, and even recruiting other people."

Everybody's an individual. Not one person's experience is the same, but it's like an aha moment that what they're trying to do with the general diversity efforts across other dimensions of diversity is the more people we bring in with diverse perspectives, the better we're going to be able to reach customer markets. They're realizing that if they hire people with disabilities, they're going to be better able to capture this customer market. It's really exciting.

I'm going to pivot a little bit from some of those factors to talk a little bit about generation next. I know that you're all working with people that have transitioned out of high school in the past couple of years, or they're getting ready to, or within this generation. One thing we're seeing a lot is that it feels like the schools are a little ahead of the game when it comes to inclusion than our workplaces.

I know everybody in this room has probably had an experience and saying, "Well, the school, I don't know. My son or daughter, it's not so great." But in general, I think back to the dark ages when I was in school and think about the fact that I never saw a person with a disability, not in my classroom, not even in my school. I mean maybe it's some years there was a special classroom, but most of the time it was a completely different school.

As a result, when I grew up, I had a cousin with IDD, and I always felt uncomfortable, like I don't know if I'm going to say the wrong thing to him or if I'm going to do the wrong thing. That's the generation that our managers and executives and running some of the organizations and doing some of the hiring. There's still that fear factor.

When I think about the continuum, that you learn how the continuum of inclusion from exclusion to heroes and holidays. We just celebrated National Disability Employment Awareness month, and then representation. In the school systems, we've got representation. That's just numbers. Diversity is just numbers. It's who's at the table. It doesn't mean they're actually getting to participate or play.

I think the schools are a little past that into participation and, in some points, inclusion. The workforce is just not there. We're still in charity, nice to do. That's a real comfort space for companies, "We want to do something around disability, we're not ready to hire people. We'll do something in the community to sponsor Special Olympics."

Don't get me wrong, we benefit our parent company. We benefit from that kind of philanthropy, and that's important that companies are giving to the community that way, but it shouldn't be part of their talent message. It should be part of their social responsibility. They need to hire people. They need to take action in hiring. Then compliance, the have to do. We see there are two pieces. It's the charity or the nice to do.

The school systems, I mean I think about ... I'll tell you a real brief story. My daughter is now 24. When she was a senior in high school and she was starting to look at colleges, she came home really upset one day. She was a senior in high school so she was upset a lot of days, but this day, she was really, really mad.

She came in and I was like, "Paige, what's the matter?" She said, Mrs. So and So, her guidance counselor, had written her a college referral letter and reference letter and had sat down with her to share a draft of it. She's like, "I don't get it. She's going to have to redo this. I don't know how to ask her. I don't know what I'm going to do. This is ridiculous." She was upset because the woman had written that Paige sat with her friend, Sean, at lunch every day. Paige was like, "What does that have to do with anything?" She's like, "I sit with Jackie and Heather, too, and she didn't say anything about that. I don't get it."

Her friend, Sean, has Duchenne's muscular dystrophy, and they've been friends since second grade. Paige and Sean fight like brother and sister. They love each other like brother and sister. They sat together at lunch with Heather and Jackie whenever they could. She really didn't get it.

I tried to explain where the lady might be coming from. She thought it was maybe a positive reflection of her character or something like that. The more I talked, the more I realized she was really not getting it. Then I had one of those moments where as a parent, there's a lot of times you're like, "Oh, that's going to be talked about in counseling in 10 years," but this was one of those moments where I went, "Oh, she really doesn't get it. That's so cool." Then because of the work I do, it was like, "That's inclusion." They're all friends. They don't get it.

What's cool about this is that this is the generation that these companies are trying to attract. They might complain about millennials and blah, blah, blah, but this is the group they're trying to attract. They're getting on the job and they're like, "Where are my friends?" They don't have that fear factor, "I'm going to say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing." I mean Paige and Sean, they go at each. They don't worry about hurting each other's feelings at all.

That gives me hope, but the companies have to realize the people that are making these decisions and hiring decisions are more like my age, and so there's still this fear factor. But that's what I see is going on.

I want to talk a little bit about two perspectives, but one goal, so the goal being employment. Companies need top talent. Because of the low general unemployment rate right now, they're all scrambling. They're picking employees off from one another. They're trying to find new ways to attract top talent. They're going, "Hey. Hey, over here. We've got a great untapped or underutilized talent pool." They're trying to hire people and we're all trying to get people to work. But we're coming at it from two different perspectives and we have different priorities, and so I want to share a little bit about that.

The community partner. When we're working with companies, we refer to provider organizations, workforce agencies, voc rehab agencies, veterans groups, anywhere that they're going to connect with great talent, we refer to them as talent partners, because that seems to resonate with them. We need talent partner.

What are some of our priorities? Well, our main priority is the person with the disability that we're working with, but it's also the company we work for, the agency we work for, and our family. If we're a family member, our family. We want to support the person, or we are the person, and we're seeking to obtain and maintain employment. That's our goal. We want to assist people and increase independence and financial security.

We've got roles. We're an advocate, we're family, we're friends. We've got a board of directors maybe that we're reporting to, but we're mostly reporting ... We need the outcomes and we want to help people. That's why we're in this business. That's our top priority.

The employers. Their priorities are the shareholders or the owners and the board, if they have a board of directors, and the customer, because why? Happy customers, more customers, profit. They're in business to make money or to stay afloat at least, because whether you're a small business and you want to feed your family from your business or you're a large corporation and you need to report to shareholders, who keep expecting more and more profits, that's what they're dealing with. Their goals are to increase profit or shareholder value, increase customer market share, which is why they're paying attention to those numbers we looked at before, broaden the talent pipeline and hire great employees.

Most companies, I'll say most, get the connection between hiring good people and happy customers and, therefore, more customers and profit. Most of them get it. Some don't, but most of them do. They want to reduce expenses, again increase profit. Something like turnover payroll is always one of if not the highest line item in a budget, whether you're a nonprofit, whether you're profit payroll. It's one of the highest.

If they can reduce turnover ... And we all know about turnover, we all struggle with it. I mean that was my whole other world was the DSP workforce. We're trying to reduce turnover. We know it's important to providing quality services. Companies know it's important to providing quality customer service and continuity. They've got to comply with regulations and reduce risk. Again, risk means money. They're very conscious of risk. Their role is as employer, employee, family member.

They also see that it's important to give back to the community and be part of the communities where they work. Part of that is customers and part of that is just they realize that engaging their own employees, because people are working for companies. They spend a lot of time on the job, and they want their companies to reflect the values that they reflect and give back to the community.

These are some of the things. We're just looking at it from two different perspectives. Just part of our role at Disability Solutions is trying to bridge those two perspectives together. I hope that as I share some of the things they're concerned about, my goal today is that that will help all of you in flipping that around and getting doors open, because you can catch their attention and talk about how hiring a person with a disability is going to help them with their goals.


Part Three: The Value Proposition of People with Disabilities in the Workplace

Kris Foss: When we talk about the current landscape, specifically around disability employment, we're usually talking ... Again, I'd say we started very much talking all business to the companies. Then we realized we lost a little bit of that. This is also a good thing to do. These are people, and people are important. Companies do get that their people are important. But we flipped the script and talk about the value proposition of hiring people with disabilities for companies because, again, when you think about their priorities, that's where we have to talk to them. That's where we have to work within.

We talk about market value, talent value, corporate value, and compliance value. This was very different for our organization. When we started talking like this, our parent company, people are like, "What are you talking about, money and compliance? We're here for people." That is true. At the end of the day, we're here for people. But this is a strategy for companies to understand that they can have high-performing companies and they can increase their profits by hiring good people, and we have a talent pool for them.

Kevin Cox, he's incredible, Chief Human Resource Officer with American Express. He made this statement. This was in the next frontier. This was back in '15. I hope we're not a frontier anymore, but, "Next frontier from both the brand and workforce perspective. Ensuring that people with disabilities see themselves and their needs in our products and services and what we offer is important. It's important to our customers," as well as their workforce.

They have an awful lot of people in their workforce. First of all, if one in four people in our country has a disability, there's an awful lot of people in every workforce with some type of disability. Now whether they want to disclose that or not, it's a whole other story. Then they've got a lot of family members who have a son or a daughter or a brother or a sister, a mom or dad with some type of disability. They realize that they need to engage their workforce as well.

The market, we've been seeing some really cool things happen because, again, connecting to this customer market. Royal Caribbean. Has anybody taken a cruise on a Royal Caribbean boat? I haven't, but you should. It's on the list. But I've been talking to Royal Caribbean, and there's a gentleman there, Ron Pettit, whose incredible. He's done a lot about the shipboard, the customer experience around disability, everything from signage to making sure that the ship is accessible. Then they've got autism-friendly ships. They're doing this to respond to a market that they see. People are traveling, and they want to get that customer market.

Guinness has had ... This is a little dated, but they had the wheelchair basketball advertisement on television, one of the first ads I saw back a few years ago that featured anybody with a disability. Starbucks just last week opened up their first US sign language store with murals and tech pads. That was incredible. For Starbucks, it's not a nice thing to do. It's a response to getting in a market.

Barclays. The gentleman in the middle of that picture on the New York Stock Exchange is Rich Donovan. He's an incredible finance guy. I'm sure he wouldn't like being described like that. I'm sure there's more to his job, but I think finance guy. He was on Wall Street for years and years. He's a gentleman with cerebral palsy. He changed his career and he takes his background in finances and stocks and indexes and he launched a business called the Return on Disability group. Those numbers that I shared with you before, actually he's one of the sources for those. He analyzes what companies are doing in the space of hiring people and how that can impact their market and their market share.

He launched with Barclays about four years ago the Return on Disability index on the New York Stock Exchange. It's a group of companies that he's now, over several years and seen results, measuring what they're doing and hiring people with disabilities, what they're doing in making products and services accessible. Then the third bucket that they're measured by is how they're leveraging technology and other tools to keep people on the job longer and to get people back to work after an illness or injury.

Where that group is concerned is the large, large population in our country who are aging into some type of disability for the first time. He's correlating those three buckets of action to increase shareholder value, and they're seeing that their shareholder value is going up.

That is so cool. I mean one of these days, I'm going to get on there and try to ... If I have some spare dollars, I don't ever, but if I do, invest in some of those companies. But definitely, as you said, we can shop with those companies. This has been really, really exciting to see. That's the market.

Talent. We're seeing again, as I said, that companies see the correlation between hiring talent with disabilities and how that helps them to attract new customers. Here's Margaret Keane, who is the CEO for Synchrony. She made a statement that by having employees with diverse backgrounds and experiences, it helps them better meet the needs of their clients and their customers. "They share different perspectives that factor into better solutions for our partners and customers."

They have a good part of their business is directly to each of us as individual borrowers, so they might be like the care credit if you need some healthcare loan or something like that. But also a big part of their business is with other businesses because they're the bank behind the Target credit card and the retail credit cards. They have people directly and partners.