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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.

PepsiCo, "Building a strong talent base that includes people with disabilities positions us to better connect with all types of consumers or customers, which is definitely a business objective of our diversity inclusion platform."

Companies get this. The challenge has been how do we get people in the door even when they want to? I'll talk a little bit about that in the second half of the morning with the case study. I want to pivot a little bit away from a more traditional employment, getting hired by a company, earning that every week or every two-week paycheck, to a trend that I'm sure a lot of you are seeing as well where people with disabilities and their family are taking upon themselves to say, "Okay. Let's create something."

A lot of businesses have been popping up that are entrepreneurial enterprises, and so we definitely see that trend. It's not for everybody. I mean a lot of people are more comfortable with their paycheck or don't have the dollars and resources to launching a new business. It's not for everyone, but we're definitely seeing more of this crop up.

I don't know. Are you following Bitty and Beau, the coffee shops, on social media? Anybody? Yeah, it's so cool. A mom has two children with Down syndrome, Beau and Bitty. I think she just opened her third coffee shop. Charleston, South Carolina, there's one in Savannah, and I can't remember the other location. But she's primarily hiring employees with Down syndrome. If you look for them on social media, you can see videos. They celebrate every time someone gets hired. It's really exciting.

I met Austin down in Fort Lauderdale. He and his mom were there talking about the food truck that he launched, and it's been booming. He's a big hot dog fan, and so he created four different versions of hot dogs, and that's his menu. It's going through the roof. He's doing great. Then John's Crazy Socks. I just like his socks. I don't know much about John, but it seems like he's picked up a lot of steam.

That's happening, so that's pretty cool. If you'll bear with me for a minute, this has just been something that with different trends we're seeing has been circulating in my brain, and I felt like this is the perfect place with all this brain power in the room and everybody doing the work that we do every day, for you to think about and go back and talk to your teams about. I don't know. Maybe there's nothing to it, but bear with me a minute.

We've got this trend with the entrepreneur. At the same time, how many people have gone to a company that you've had a relationship with before that's in your community with somebody, who's interested in either starting a career in maybe facilities maintenance or as entry-level admin, or that's their career interest and been told, "Oh, we don't hire for those jobs anymore"? Has that been happening?

We don't have those jobs anymore. We use a contractor for them. We outsource it. That's happening a lot. I know I'm hearing it from our employment team and companies are telling us, "Yeah, we don't have those jobs. We get approached by organizations all the time, and we outsource vendors and use vendors."

There's been some surveys here that say that was the hottest trend for larger organizations to farm out any activities that don't offer people working in them, opportunities for advancement into management, and they don't see this changing any time soon because it's the number one expense saver for companies. It's much cheaper to contract and have another company worry about hiring people and paying them a paycheck and benefits and all of that stuff than to hire people directly.

Here's what started turning around in my head. We've got this happening. At the same time, the diversity executives that I'm talking with about bringing in talent and hiring people are often also responsible for making sure their supply chain, their vendor lists are diverse, or they have a colleague that's responsible for making sure their supply chain is diverse. Here's what I thought. Has anybody heard of the DOBE's, the DOBE certification?

Audience: Yeah.

Kris Foss: USBLN now, I believe, Disability:IN, is that right? They just relaunched their brand, has a certification where if a business is at least 51% owned, operated, controlled, or managed by a person with a disability, they can be certified as a disability-owned business enterprise. Companies need to show supply chain diversity. When you look at those lists, they might have veteran-owned businesses on the list, they might have women-owned businesses, they might have minority-owned businesses. There are hardly any disability-owned business enterprises.

If somebody is interested in starting their own business, whether it's ... I mean this is the supply list for everything from purchasing toilet paper to office supplies to the tchotchkes that they throw out at conferences or giveaway at conferences and outsourcing services like janitorial and admin and mail room group. If owning your own business or working with a person with a disability, wants to start their own business, I mean this just might be something.

I know we function within procedures and policy and our funding dictates sometimes the actions that we can take, but I feel like this may be something we could figure out for an option for some people. It's not going to be for everybody, but it's just a thought.


Part Four: Talent Trends in Demand

Kris Foss: So, talent trends in demand. Looking at the Bureau of Labor statistics projections, you can see actually the first top five fastest growing are in the healthcare field or in our field, so there's that. Also, computer and mathematical occupations, construction and extraction occupations. But the Bureau of Labor statistics will put out their 10-year projection about the fastest growing careers. I think that's part of the picture, but I think that the numbers lag a little bit, so the Bureau of Labor statistics is not the whole picture.

We often approach a company when we have a jobseeker with us that's interested in a job at that company. We're going in for a very specific purpose and we're asking somebody to give somebody an interview or inquire about the job, or oftentimes somebody in our organization or in our companies are going to a company to ask about a fundraiser or a sponsorship opportunity.

I think we need to talk to companies way before that happens. I think there's an opportunity here to ask the companies, and this is where we start when we're working with them. We don't start talking about talent right away. We want to know what their pain points are. What jobs are you having trouble sourcing for, like finding talent for? Do you have some growth plans? Are you expanding and you're going to need certain types of roles? Are you opening a new store in a specific location? Are you going to be laying people off? What's keeping you up at night?

I think there's an opportunity to invite companies in and have a very not intimidating conversation when it's not a direct ask. Just say, "We want to hear from you. It'll help us make sure we're preparing a workforce that you need. Maybe you can hear about our talent pool and we can come together," very much like the conversation we had way back with Pepsi. I think it's a really important conversation. What do you see as your top talent needs over the next five years? The next 10?

I mean they know. They're talking about this. I hear from companies talking about, "Well, we can never find people for data analytics. We're farming that out overseas. We can't find people in certain geographies." They have pain points and they'll tell you about them. To me, it's becoming a trusted partner not just with each individual that you bring, but that again and again they see you as a resource to go to, a talent partner. I think having these kinds of conversations opens up a lot of opportunity. Some other talent surveys to look at upcoming talent financial and business services, technology, media, and telecommunications, and manufacturing.

I think now pretty much all over the country, every town and city has their own Facebook page. Sometimes it's really dramatic like ours. It's like don't want to look half the time. But I see a lot of tradesmen trying to find help a lot. I've been reading a lot of articles about where a lot of the general population, a good portion of the population, has been pushed into college right after high school, and we've neglected the trades.

I don't know that we were all going to be flying cars and robots and everything by this point, so we thought, "Who's going to need a plumber? Who's going to need an electrician? That's just going all work automatically." But the need is there, and I hear from people that they can't beg, borrow, or steal people to come to work for them, small businesses and large businesses. Maybe that's something.

I bring this up because I just think ... I don't remember a lot about high school economics, but the one thing that's always stuck with me is this concept of supply and demand, that when the supply is low and the demand is high, that's going to breakdown barriers faster than anything any of us individually can do any day. I have just a very short clip for you. How many people have seen the movie Hidden Figures?

Female: Hidden Figures? Yeah. Oh, I love that movie.

Kris Foss: There is a great scene just for everyone that hasn't seen it, and I don't think it's a spoiler alert. But it's the story of three African American women who worked for NASA during the space race in the '60s. This was a time that it was very unusual for women, and especially African American women, to be working in NASA.

You see as the movie goes on that there is a pool of white women who are called on for assignments within NASA and there's a pool of African American women that are pooled for assignments. They're not getting the best assignments and there's things going. The bathrooms are still separate. You really see the times and what's been happening.

These three women are all really extremely bright. Their roles are computers. It was before really computers. They were hand-calculating trajectory for the rockets and how are they getting back down safely, doing this all by hand.

My favorite scene is, and I'll just share it with you, is a scene where Octavia Spencer, the actress who plays Dorothy Vaughan, is walking down, really marching down the hall with her whole team of women who are going to meet NASA's talent need, because they had a big need. They brought in and invested a lot of money in a big IBM, they called it the IBM or big mainframe. I laugh. We've got our phones now. This takes up a whole room, and nobody could get it to work. They're doing the manual calculations, and they've invested a lot of money and they're under tremendous pressure to get this IBM to work.

Dorothy Vaughan's character self-teaches herself the code to get the computer to work. Somebody's got to operate that thing. She sees that, "Oh, they're not going to need us anymore. Everybody else is wringing their hands. We're not going to have jobs because they're going to have this computer." She taught herself. She's like, "Somebody's going to have to operate it." She taught herself and then she taught her team on the side how to code. I'll show you and then we'll wrap it up.

Speaker 5: I’ve never seen a mind like the one your daughter has. You have to see what she becomes.

Speaker 6: Come on.

Kris Foss: This is the scene.

Octavia Spencer: Hello. I'm Octavia Spencer, and I play Dorothy Vaughan in the upcoming film Hidden Figures. I sincerely hope that you will be inspired by Dorothy's story.

Speaker 8: We're just on our way to work at NASA.

Children: I had no idea they hired.

Octavia Spencer: There are quite a few women working in the Space Program. You can start learning the skills necessary to launch your own future right now through the [hour 00:52:31] code. In just one hour, you can take the first step to teaching yourself how to program with a computer and the first step to changing your life and the world.

Children: [inaudible 00:52:43].

Kris Foss: That scene when she's leading the whole team down to the room where the IBM was because they realized not only did she get it to work, but they were going to need about 30 more people that knew how to do that, and that workforce didn't exist. If that workforce existed, and I'm not a ... Take this with a grain of salt, but if that workforce had existed within NASA and they had white men to do that job, those women wouldn't have gotten that job.

I think about what that means for people with disabilities. We are often behind the eight ball preparing people for yesterday's jobs. I know we're trying to prepare people for today's jobs, but I think collectively we need to have those conversations with companies and figure out what tomorrow's jobs are and get ahead of it, so that there's no question about hiring people with disabilities, because the need is going to be there and they're going to be ready with the skills. Just something to throw out there, but I think that having these conversations, staying on top of trends, what companies are doing and what they're looking for so we can get ahead of it is going to be really important to just moving the needle on employment for people with disabilities.


Part Five: Compliance and Self-Identification

Kris Foss: This is a really hard segue from a nice movie clip to compliance, but I'm sure most people have heard about the different compliance obligations that federal contractors have. This is like 2014. Some new regulations are updated, regulations came down. For most companies, it was tied to their affirmative action plan start date, so it was January 1, 2015 for them.

There are over 200,000 more now federal contractors in the US. In February, this past February, over 1,000 scheduling letters went out to tell these companies that their audits are coming. This is something that is continual and that they're concerned about. It's not necessarily a concern of the HR person or the recruiter that you talk to each day. They might have heard of it, but there's somebody usually somewhere else in their organization that's losing sleep over it. It's not necessarily on the talent acquisition person's radar. If you've brought that up in interviews or when you're talking with companies, that's why there's a little bit of a disconnect there. But somebody in their company is staying up at night about this.

Just a quick review, because I know that we run into in our travels some misunderstandings about what the obligations are and what they aren't. The first one that's most pertinent to us is Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. That's what went in place for most companies 1115. It says that companies with 100 or fewer employees need to have a representation number or a utilization goal of 7% people with disabilities across their whole organization.

This isn't a hiring goal. Again, with one in four people in our country have some type of disability, companies know they must have people with some type of disability in their work force. It's just that people have not necessarily wanted to or needed to disclose a disability. They're focusing on how do we get people engaged to feel comfortable disclosing. Then we also know we have to hire more people.

But it's an even greater obligation for companies who have 101 or more employees, which is most of the federal contractors. They have to have 7% utilization for across each job group across each location. When HR looks at all the jobs in a company, we group them up with other like jobs, like responsibilities or scope of work or accountability or approval level within the organization. We group jobs into job groups for our affirmative action plans, for compensation, for a lot of different purposes.

The Office of Federal Contract and Compliance Programs, OFCCP, looks to say not only do you need 7% across your whole organization, no. We're saying 7% across each of your job groups. If you have 500 locations across the US, we're looking across each location. It's a big obligation goal. There are some data collection responsibilities.

Self-ID is a big change for companies. People have always been asked, or not always but more ... The thing that was the biggest change for HR professionals was the obligation to give people an opportunity to self-ID on application, not just after the job was offered. For HR people, this was a big change because as a former HR person, you're worried about risk all the time.

It was almost like that don't ask, don't tell policy, because if we don't know, then somebody can't come back and say, "Oh, I wasn't hired because I have a disability," or the person you're supporting wasn't hired because they have a disability. I didn't know that. Now there's this opportunity that they might know that ahead of time. That was a big change for companies, and they're getting more used to it, but there's still not a large number of people self-IDing, and we know there's many reasons for that.

Equal opportunity clause, some changes in mandated language, and some other definition changes. It's not a hiring goal, 503. It doesn't mean they have to hire 7% more people. It means that across their organization or across their job groups, they have to have a total of 7%.

A big part of what they need to do with that is partnership. Being a talent partner, and you've probably all gotten those letters or ... It's funny. In our organization, the letters come to HR. Then HR is like, "I don't know who to give this to." It doesn't go to the employment surfaces where it really should. But companies just send out letters that say, "Hey, we're interested in hiring people with disabilities. We're under obligation," blah, blah, blah, blah, and somebody files away the letter and they feel like, "Check. We did what we were supposed to."

But now the auditors are coming out and saying, "No, no, no. That's nice that you posted your jobs here. That's great. Did you get any results? That's nice you sent those letters. Do you have a relationship with that community organization? Really? Irene? You talked to Irene? I'm going to call Irene and see if Irene knows you." They're really starting to get a lot of pressure that partnerships are not just ... They're trying to in good faith, but the partnerships are effective and that people are getting outcomes. That's a change for them. Again, they need to evaluate the partnership's effectiveness and they need to post out and show that they're trying, but they also have to show results now.

There is a ... I call it the companion regulation that came out about the same time, VEVRRA. It's Section 4212 of, this is a mouthful, the Vietnam Era Veterans' Readjustment Assistance Act. We love our acronyms, don't we? VEVRRA. It's very similar in a lot of the reporting, in some of the other obligations. The biggest difference is that it's updated annually based on the population of working-age veterans. This year, it's 6.7%. I think that's the current one, 6.7%.

That is a hiring benchmark. That's not an overall who you have in your organization. It's a hiring benchmark. It's across the whole organization. Just a little different approach, and so just sometimes you'll hear 503 lumped up with 4212.


Part Six: Top Barriers to Disability Employment

Kris Foss: So I hate talking about barriers, but I think it's also another important piece to kind of understanding how do we break them down, is to understand that they're there and what's going on with them. So I know a couple of these slides, it'll start feeling like when is she going to get to something positive? But I promise we'll turn it around a little bit, so bear with me.

The top four barriers that I'm seeing and I'll go into these a little bit is, and that my team seeing is communication, lack of information and understanding, distressed, and that the big picture kind of gets forgotten a lot. So we'll look at them because we really need to knock these down. Back to that seek first to understand communication, I mean, I made a comment about acronyms before, right?

We have a ton of acronyms in our business and we have a lot of funding streams and policies, and practices, and we've got DDD and OPWDD and VR and people living in SAL and ICF Scenarios and companies are going, "What?" And at the same time they've got their buzzwords and we hear them all the time. Sometimes my team will kind of laugh about, you know, we'll all decide that we're going to talk a little buzzed speak, and it'll be like, "Well, I was going to leverage that, but I need to make sure that we close that switch first before we move onto the next topic and we're going to disrupt HR." There's all these buzzwords and so sometimes we're like, "What?"

But one thing I can say that I've seen, and I'm really envious of this, is that a lot of the executives that we're working with have a really great way, they're busy, they've got a lot of priorities but they have a really great way of taking a really complex issue and distilling it down into one sentence. And I grew up with the mantra that why say in five words, which you can say in 20. So I don't understand that, but I really envy it, and been trying to do that myself and my team has been trying to. Because people, we need to meet each other in the middle and they need to understand where we're coming from and what we're doing and the talent that people bring to the table.

And we need to talk their speak in able to do that. We have complex funding and we feel the need all the time. And I'm saying we, because my parent organization and I've worked again for 18 years with them and I've worked in different roles. When we start talking to an employer, we feel the need to explain to them exactly about the funding streams and this person qualifies for this, and this person can only work these hours or they have these benefits and this.

And they're like, "Whoa, okay, I'm going to hire this guy," because it's complex and at the same time that we're trying to explain the complexities there are under great pressure to, they've got a hiring manager over their shoulder saying, "When are you going to hire somebody for me? When are you gonna hire somebody for me?" So a lot of times they're going to do the path of least resistance and hire the person that they can get in the door quickly with little trouble. And if we're trying to explain to them still, we're back here talking to them about the funding and where somebody lives and what they ... they're going to tune out. So there's that part.

We've seen in our work, so a big part of our model is we're not going in and working with a company in a certain location. Like if we were working with a company and they said, "Hey, we're hiring, we want you to pilot something in South Jersey." We don't come in and try to be the job coach, provide the services to, what we do is we're trying to connect them with already existing resources and talent partners and be that kind of bridge that gap and help them develop those relationships then they sustained with all of you.

So that's a big part of our approach. And some of these things we've seen in and we understand the reasons a lot of times for it is that, we'll communicate out that Pepsi is hiring and they're having an open house or they're having an opportunity for hands on interviews. So you got people that can't get through that behavioral based interview, they want to see people in action doing the job and here's an opportunity to interview that way, and we get two people in the room, we get no response.

And so then Pepsi's like, "See, there's nobody out there." And so we've seen that happen time and time, and so that's frustrating for the employer and I'm going to flip that around because I know we have our own frustration sometimes at what we've seen. So then I'm gonna pivot to challenging perceptions. So part of this is that companies aren't sure who we're talking about. So we might be going in and most of the audience in this room is going in and supporting somebody and their employment search with IDD.

Companies tend to think of the person they know in their lives with a disability, and that's who they're thinking of when they're trying to hire. So if they're hiring for, if the person that they know what the disability utilizes a wheelchair and has significant mobility challenges and they're hiring for, and I'm just going to use a really whole other end of the world, a roofer. They're thinking, "Oh, we can't hire for people with disabilities. We can't do that." I get that from pharmaceutical companies off and they're like, "Oh, we've got a lot of safety issues in the lab, we can't hire people with disabilities."

But the reality is we're talking about a really wide range of people, and so we need to challenge this perception, this is the question I get asked the most often, what kinds of jobs can a person with a disability do? And I promised you that I answer it nicely, but I do sometimes, I don't know I grew up valuing sarcasm. So sometimes it comes out. And so more frequently I find my response is, "Well, that's as broad as asking what kinds of job can a 5'3 woman with freckles and red hair do?" And they get it, they understand that, "Oh yeah, okay, let's talk about this diverse group."

So sometimes we get caught up in wanting to answer that question in a way that says, "Oh, well they can do this entry level job or this entry level job or whatever you got." And we have to flip that around and increase people's perspective on who we're talking about and the wide, wide range of disability out there. But then the even wider range of abilities, knowledge, skills, work experience, interests, education level, because that's how we're going to make change for everybody is if they start thinking that about this as a broader talent pool.

So there's training needed and there's a lot of changes needed for community partners, for talent partners. Again, we're unfamiliar with the business language, operations and we don't have a lot of experience with the outreach initiatives. So when I say that, it's incredible that recruiting industry that's out there, I mean, I was in HR and I saw some of it, but we're nonprofit so we didn't always have the latest and greatest techniques for recruiting. But with working with these companies and because we're helping at times companies not just to connect with community partners and talent partners, but sometimes depending on the roles and the response they're getting, we help them go out directly to job seekers on social media, and job boards, and we're partnering with other types of job boards. And I mean, they're using AI virtual job fairs.

They're definitely using social media and LinkedIn and a lot of sources to hire people. And so we need to better understand where they're finding talent now, just in general, where are you finding great talent? And let's just make sure that as people who are supporting people in their job search that we're making sure that we're utilizing and leveraging those same tools and making sure our job seekers are in those, using those methodologies so they get seen and they get in front of hiring managers.

Businesses or I'm familiar with our language, with the social service language and our operations, and they really want to get this right. It's not that believe me the people I'm talking with, they want to do this, they want to do it right and they're very nervous. They're going to do the wrong thing, say the wrong thing, ask the wrong question.

And so there's a lot of training that's needed to kind of take the fear factor out of it, if you will and the fear in stigma. There's sometimes, and this I think goes back to why we get the low response sometimes from the community, but there's negative past experiences, sometimes the businesses, again have sent out requests to, "We'd like to hire people, we'd like to talk to you, do you have job seekers?" And they've gotten crickets in response or it didn't work out.

This is another thing, sometimes I hear like, "We tried this before and it didn't work out," and of course my sarcastic response is, "Well, did you ever have a woman with red hair not workout? Do you not hire women with red hair anymore? Of course you don't, you do, you hire them." So like we have to kind of bring it down to common sense, but people really want to get it right, but there are sometimes that have had past experiences that didn't work out, or we've really tried to set up really complex ways that our job seekers can work within their company and it doesn't work for them.

We can't build a whole other community or infrastructure just within their companies and make that work. We have to work within their systems and we have to find, yes, we can put alternate approaches to people being able to showcase their talent so that they get in the door, but we can't create all these extra initiatives. It's just confusing to them and they've had bad experiences with it.

As a community partner, sometimes we've approached companies over and over and over again who have said, we'd like to hire people with disabilities and we know nobody's gotten through the door. And so we're busy, we have limited funding, limited resources, we're not going to keep going back to that well if it's dry.

So but what I can tell you is we have a lot of turnover in our business, right? They have a ton of turnover in their business, so why not give each other a break and keep trying to have that conversation both ways because factors change in a business, people change and we can reestablish and say, "Okay, what didn't work before, what did work? And let's do more of that." So we need to still have these conversations and challenge perceptions about the talent that can come to their companies and how people, how they can benefit and what people bring.

So there is kind of this sometimes negative history between partners and businesses, but I'm sorry we do it among ourselves too. This is one of the greatest barriers we've seen going across the country and they're trying to help companies hire people with disabilities is we kind of tank ourselves. And I get it because we always have that funding crisis every year with our organization. We're always trying to do more with less and we all have HR teams and benefits and payroll, and we have infrastructures to support. And we're competing with each other for funds and for delivering services.

So we don't always work well together and our funding doesn't always allow us to find ways to collaborate easily together. And it becomes one of those when we're in the day to day, it's hard to think about getting out of that day to day and trying to do something together with another organization, because we're all busy. But I feel like we really have to try to do that more and where we've seen the most success in a geography, helping a company hire people with disabilities is when we help them cast a wide net and we bring all the providers who want to participate and who have talent that meet the qualifications and that want to talk to that employer to the table.

We've really gotten away from that single point of contact because the other thing is, as an HR professional, I don't source all my talent for the whole organization from one source. I don't look for all the women that I want to hire from one source, I look at different sources when I'm hiring DSPs than I do to find an IT professional, right? So why would we insist on companies having to find all their talent from one point of contact in a given geography or community?

We've gotta find ways to work together and play in the sandbox better because if one of us wins, we all win, and that's true, not just organization, organization, agency within the IDD community, but across disability groups. And like I said, I get it. The funding, there's a lot of structure in place, but I feel like we have to do better at working together and make it easier for employers.

The big forgotten picture, we get caught up in a lot of the logistics and for businesses sometimes they're worried that they're going to have to put unnecessary accommodations in place, unnecessary or they're asked to put things in place proactively that might not be needed. And so it feels like a big ask. One of those areas is I've seen some initiatives start where there's the assumption that everybody that's going to come into the organization with a disability is going to need a job coach.

So they're approached about embedding job coaches into the organization, so that if the first time a person with a disability comes in, they have a coach, well, do they need a coach? They might need a coach, but to me we changed the conversation to that of any other type of accommodation request is, it's by individual, by individual. It's not everybody have the disability. I will tell you, I've only started expressing this publicly and identifying publicly about three weeks ago, but I have a hidden disability.

And I don't need a coach so if I had self-identified on an application that I was a person with a disability and I showed up for my first day of work and they assigned me a coach, I wouldn't know what was going on, and it's overkill. They've got better things to do. So we have to make sure that we're not layering unnecessary accommodations or, and that we're talking more about the reality that most accommodation requests cost under $500 and most of them don't cost anything.

I've had companies say, "Well, we don't have the budget to bring on special computers to buy special computers." I don't know what a special computer is, I really don't. I mean I have friends that are diehard Mac users, so I think they think those are special computers, but there's not special computers and the reality is there's a ton ... We're all in the field and I guarantee you that if you started looking at the accessibility features on the operating system of your phone or your computer, there's stuff there that we don't even know about.

That's just a simple switch it on and use it. And most people come and the people that you're working with, the best thing you can do to coach someone in the interview process or to get ready for the interview process or if you're helping them and assisting them in the communication with a hiring manager is to talk about the accommodations and the tools that they already have in place that have worked for them.

This is what I've used throughout school, it means that I can do X, Y, and Z and I just need to have this in place. I've already got it solved, you don't have to worry about it, but I need this on the job to be productive, just like I need these and I know that's simplifying it and I don't mean to be insulting, but it's a tool. And so we talk a lot of times about accommodations with companies' productivity tools, because the other thing is some of the things they put in place have helped the rest of their workforce.

PepsiCo, for their merchandisers, we had a gentleman in Texas who got the job, he was going from it. These are the guys that go and create those cool super bowl displays of Pepsi when you walk into the stores which is amazing to me but they go to store to store and he was on a performance plan about three months into the job and we were like, "What happened? This guy was a rock star," and he was leaving a store with some items unfinished and going to the next store. So he was getting in some performance trouble.

And we went back and connected him back to his provider that he had worked with his coach, and he had used previously an iPad with a checklist and tha